Virginia’s top election official responds as gubernatorial candidates debate audits

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va, (WRIC)- The state’s top election official is responding after Virginia’s candidates for governor spent the week sparring over voting machine audits. 

While Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe have engaged in a series of public attacks on the issue, the two are largely in agreement: the state’s existing process for auditing elections is effective. 

An audit of the 2020 Election found the state’s original ballot count was accurate, according to Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper. 

“In Virginia, I think it’s pretty clear that the process is protected and people can have faith and trust that the elections are fair, free and secure,” Piper said in an interview. 

Piper explained state law has required risk-limiting audits since 2018 and that same process will be followed after the 2021 election. He said all voting machines have to go through logic and accuracy testing, which checks that ballots are being counted correctly. After that, Piper said the machines are locked and sealed until they are deployed for voting once again. 

“Another thing I will point out is that, in Virginia, we use 100 percent voter verified paper ballots so if there is ever any questions we can always go back to the actual ballots that were cast by the voters to either recount or do an audit,” Piper said. 

The topic of election audits became a focus of the governor’s race after Youngkin addressed the issue at a Richmond event earlier this week. 

“I think we need to make sure that people trust these voting machines,” Youngkin said. “I grew up in a world where you have an audit every year, in businesses you have an audit. So let’s just audit the voting machines, publish it so everybody can see it.”

President Donald Trump seized on the moment. His political action committee sent an email late Wednesday headlined, “ICYMI: ‘Youngkin calls for audit of voting machines in Virginia.’” 

McAuliffe used the comments as an opportunity to tie Youngkin to Trump. His campaign released a new digital attack ad doing just that. 

In response, Youngkin’s spokesperson Matt Wolking clarified that he was actually expressing support for the current state audit process.

“As Glenn Youngkin said in February, he believes audits are a best practice when it comes to administering elections—just as audits are a routine best practice in the business world—and he will ensure Virginia continues to conduct audits going forward and that they are thorough, efficient, and accurate,” Wolking said in a statement.

Youngkin has stopped short of calling for the “forensic audit” that others in his party have pushed for, including state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield). A similar audit in Arizona cost $6 million dollars, found no significant evidence of fraud and was criticized for inconsistent practices. 

Citizens call for forensic audit on the first day of the special session in August

Asked if she would like to see Youngkin publicly endorse a forensic audit in Virginia, Chase said in a phone interview, “Glenn is trying to unify our Republican base and I represent the Trump base and I’m trying to bring those people in to support him.” 

“Glenn is a person who is going to do the right thing. He is a man of integrity but he is new to politics and the process,” Chase furthered.

The difference is that the risk-limiting audit currently required under state law looks at a sample of ballots to check for statistical irregularity rather than a more extensive review of millions. 

“It does this by increasing the initial sample when discrepancies are found until either the level of confidence has been met or a full recount has been performed,” explains the National Conference of State Legislatures. “If the margin of an election is wide, very few ballots must be reviewed. If the margin is narrow, more will be reviewed up to the point that enough evidence is provided to confirm the declared election result.” 

The bill requiring risk-limiting audits in Virginia won unanimous support in the General Assembly, was sponsored by a Republican and signed into law by McAuliffe during his previous term as governor. 

McAuliffe’s campaign confirmed his continued support for the law this week after Youngkin asserted on Twitter, “Not a surprise McAuliffe opposes audits. He also opposes requiring photo IDs to vote. These are common sense measures!”

The law directs localities to be chosen at random for the audit with mandatory participation by each locality at least once during a five-year period. It also allows candidates and political parties to oversee the process. 

Both candidates have been pressed on the broader issue of election integrity during recent debates and candidate forums. 

In Thursday’s roundtable hosted by WAVY-TV, McAuliffe was confronted with a 2004 speech in which he asserts that the 2000 election was stolen. Asked if President George W. Bush was legitimately elected, McAuliffe said, “Once you’re sworn in, you gotta move on but do not forget that the Supreme Court of Florida stopped the counting of ballots. That wasn’t the case in 2020.” 

Before becoming the nominee, Youngkin initially declined to say whether Biden was legitimately elected when asked by The Washington Post. He has since acknowledged his win. 

In the first gubernatorial debate, Youngkin said he doesn’t believe there has been significant fraud in previous elections.

Asked about comments from Trump suggesting Virginia Democrats may try to cheat and steal the 2021 election, Youngkin said, “No. I think we are going to have a clean, fair election and I fully expect to win.”

Both candidates said they would accept the results of the election no matter who the winner is.

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