PILF has history of wild accusations with few facts
Richmond, VA – The Public Interest Legal Foundation and Virginia Voters Alliance are again scrambling to defend the integrity of a willfully false and misleading “report” alleging rampant voter fraud in Virginia. Months after legislators embarrassingly debunked a 2016 report during a hastily called meeting, a subsequent report from the right-wing group is under fire for misrepresenting facts and data to the public and the media.
On Tuesday, The Washington Times published a lengthy article based on information provided by PILF & VVA. The story led with 3 paragraphs alleging Maureen Erickson was illegally allowed to register to vote with an address in Guatemala and subsequently voted in 14 elections. The problem with PILF’s accusations? Erickson is an American citizen living in Guatemala as a missionary. She votes absentee, as she is legally allowed to do.
Erickson took to Facebook to express her surprise and disgust with this gross misrepresentation of the facts.
While The Washington Times has published an “editor’s note” and is ostensibly investigating further, this pattern of reckless accusations clearly discredits PILF & VVA and their report.
“For the second time in as many years, PILF has issued a recklessly and demonstrably false “report” to manufacture a fake narrative and distract from the true story: politicians that manipulate voting laws to limit democratic participation and rig elections,” said Progress Virginia executive director Anna Scholl. “We see this for what it is—an attempt to sow fake news in hopes of generating public support for additional restrictions on the right to vote. Virginians are not so easily fooled.”
In 2016, PILF & VVA published the prelude to this current report, alleging thousands of noncitizens were consistently allowed to vote in Virginia elections. The report featured a flying saucer on the cover to complete its derogatory “illegal aliens” accusations. Within days, problems arose with the report. A Washington Post column revealed the first individual they contacted was a naturalized citizen and legally registered. Revelations appeared that PILF’s work was used online by white supremacists to justify their hate and bigotry. The founder of VVA routinely posts racist and sexist memes on social media.
The inaccuracies in the 2016 report were driven home by Delegate Jennifer Boysko at an “emergency” October 13 joint Privileges and Elections hearing, where she noted instance after instance where evidence contained in PILF’s own report directly contradicted their assertions. She highlighted evidence that individuals named by PILF as noncitizen voters were either A) citizens or B) ineligible to vote due to mental incapacitation, not citizenship status.
With the revelations that the key example from PILF’s 2017 report is in fact an eligible voter, history seems to repeat itself. Chesterfield registrar Larry Haake noted in a communication published by PILF, “they are consciously misrepresenting the data they are receiving from us. Clearly, they have no legitimate purpose in what they are doing…. During the course of the [previous] lawsuit, the PILF lawyer lied about the data Commissioner Cortes mentioned they were provided in September, denying that they received any data. Do not underestimate the depth to which these PILF lowlifes will go to embarrass voters and harass us. They are fully aware the particular report they want is misrepresentative of the actual truth, but the truth is clearly not what they want.”
What PILF and VVA continue to choose to ignore is the actual process by which noncitizens are identified on the voter rolls and removed. There is no national database of U.S. citizens to compare voter rolls against. When the Department of Elections receives information from a state agency (for example, the DMV) that an individual registered to vote has indicated they are not a citizen, the relevant local registrar has 30 days to send a citizenship verification letter to the voter. The letter notes the state has received information that the individual is not a citizen. To maintain their voter registration, the voter must sign a legally binding document verifying their citizenship and return it to the registrar’s office within 14 days. Any individual who does not return the form is removed from the rolls. It is not uncommon for voters to be falsely flagged as noncitizens (see Maureen Erickson above.) Voters routinely report accidentally checking the wrong box on a government form and unknowingly initiating this process. Additionally, failure to return the signed form within 14 days is not necessarily an indication of citizenship status. Maureen Erickson lives oversees and never received the letter. Individuals move; mail gets lost or ignored. PILF’s conclusions are at best a stretch.
For individuals looking for actual facts, the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice this month published an investigation into noncitizen voting. In interviews with local elections officials, including many in Virginia, they found noncitizen voting was “exceedingly rare.” No Virginia official could identify an incident of noncitizen voting in Virginia in 2016.