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New state voter fraud units finding few cases from midterms

State-level law enforcement units created after the 2020 presidential election to investigate voter fraud are looking into scattered complaints more than two weeks after the midterms but have provided no indication of systemic problems.

That’s just what election experts had expected and led critics to suggest that the new units were more about politics than rooting out widespread abuses. Most election-related fraud cases already are investigated and prosecuted at the local level.

Florida, Georgia and Virginia created special state-level units after the 2020 election, all pushed by Republican governors, attorneys general or legislatures.

“I am not aware of any significant detection of fraud on Election Day, but that’s not surprising,” said Paul Smith, senior vice president of the Campaign Legal Center.

In the run-up to this year’s elections, 45% of Republicans had little to no confidence that votes would be counted accurately.

In Georgia, a new law gives the state’s top law enforcement agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, authority to initiate investigations of alleged election fraud without a request from election officials. The alleged violation would have to be significant enough to change or create doubt about the outcome of an election.

GBI spokesperson Nelly Miles said the agency has not initiated any investigations under the statute. The agency is assisting the secretary of state’s office in an investigation of a breach of voting equipment in Coffee County in 2021, but that is its only recent election fraud investigation, she said in an email.

Florida has been the most visible state, creating its Office of Election Crimes and Security amid much fanfare this year and keeping a pledge that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis made in 2021 to combat unspecified election fraud.

DeSantis this summer announced the election unit had arrested 20 people for illegally voting in the 2020 election, when the state had 14.4 million registered voters. That was the first major election since the state restored voting rights for felons, except for those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes or those who still owe fines, fees or restitution.

Court records show the 20 people were able to register to vote despite prior felony convictions, apparently leading them to believe they could legally cast ballots.

Andrea Mercado, executive director of Florida Rising, an independent political activist organization focused on economic and racial justice in the state, said the disproportionate targeting of such would-be voters was sending a “chilling message to all returning citizens who want to register to vote.” She said her group found that many of them were confused about the requirements.

A spokesman for the new office did not provide information related to any other actions it might have taken or investigations it might have underway related to this year’s primary and general elections.

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