It’s a favorite talking point of vote suppressors, and it’s hard to dispute: Illegitimate ballots undermine the integrity of elections and disenfranchise legitimate voters.
So why are Virginia Republicans doing all they can to ensure that, this time, illegitimate votes are counted?
Here’s what’s happening: After elections earlier this month, several House of Delegates races were too close to call, leaving control of the chamber up in the air. In one of those close races, the 28th District, Republican Bob Thomas leads Democrat Joshua Cole by just 82 votes. A win for Thomas would make it likely that the GOP retains its majority.
But a state report found 61 illegitimate votes cast in the race by people who should have voted in a neighboring district but were wrongly assigned to the 28th. Another 86 people experienced the same problem in reverse — they should have voted in the 28th district but were wrongly assigned to neighboring districts.
It’s not clear how the mistake happened, largely because the county registrar who was in charge when the map was last changed died earlier this year. The screwup underscores the woeful state of U.S. election administration, much of which is left to under-resourced and inexperienced local officials.
What is clear, though, is that the 147 total votes cast in the wrong district could have swung the race.
Delegate Kirk Cox (pictured), who would be House Speaker if Republicans maintain control, supports a strict voter ID law, and has expressed grave concern about election integrity. When a conservative group said in 2014 that it had found 17 people who might have voted both in Virginia’s Fairfax County and in Maryland in the same election, Cox was quick to sound the alarm.
“The seriousness of these disconcerting allegations cannot be overstated,” Cox said then in a joint statement with the Republican Senate leader William Howellls. “Open access to and the integrity of the ballot box are critical to the success of our electoral process and the representative government that flows from it.”
So you’d think that Cox and his colleagues would also be deeply troubled by the news about illegitimate votes in the 28th district race — votes which could have swung the result.
Just kidding — of course you wouldn’t!
And sure enough, Cox’s response has been to declare that his side won, and to pressure election officials to just hurry up and certify the results in favor of the GOP candidate already.
Cox and the GOP have argued that the board is required simply to accept results from local election offices without investigating. And they threatened to sue the board if it didn’t certify the results by Monday.
The board did certify the results Monday, a move Cox applauded, though he said he was “disappointed” it hadn’t been done sooner.
Officially, Cox’s position has been that the courts, not the board, are the proper place to hash out the dispute. But his mind’s made up. Even before the board’s certification, he referred to Thomas, the Republican candidate, as “Delegate-elect Thomas” and as the “rightful winner of this election, under any scenario.“
For Virginia Republicans, it seems, illegitimate votes are a grave threat to the integrity of our democracy — except when they might have helped the GOP win.