The decision by Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D.) not to cooperate with a White House commission examining voting processes in federal elections comes after a year in which the governor circumvented the commonwealth’s supreme court to restore voting rights for convicted felons and stalled efforts by the Virginia legislature to fight voter fraud.
McAuliffe announced on Thursday evening he has “no intention of honoring” a requestfor publicly available voter data made by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which was established through a May executive order and is being led by Vice President Mike Pence.
McAuliffe stated in his rejection that there is “no evidence” of voter fraud in Virginia, and that the “only irregularity in the 2016 presidential election centered around Russian tampering.” He also stated his belief that the commission was set up as a “tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.”
The governor’s statement was echoed by other Democratic officials across the country, including both California’s Democratic secretary of state Alex Padilla and Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, a failed Senate candidate.
McAuliffe, whose office did not respond to requests for comment, has already vetoed numerous attempts this year by the Virginia legislature to limit the possibility of voter fraud in the commonwealth’s elections, despite the fact that 5,500 noncitizens have been identified on its voter rolls.
In February, McAuliffe vetoed legislation that would have triggered investigations in jurisdictions that had more people registered to vote than people who were eligible to vote.
The legislation followed a report that looked at a sample of just 8 of Virginia’s 133 jurisdictions and found more than 1,000 individuals who were illegally registered.
McAuliffe also vetoed a March bill that would have required the Virginia Department of Elections to notify local registrars of voters who were registered to vote in other states.
In both cases McAuliffe cited the “administrative burden” that would be put on localities, which was not an issue for the governor in 2016 when he attempted to rush the restoration of voting rights for more than 200,000 Virginia felons.
Local registrars complained that they had “no forewarning at all” of McAuliffe’s order and were left unprepared to help individuals they were made responsible for.
“We had phones that were ringing off the hook,” said a local Hanover county registrar. “It was really a shock to me and my staff that this was coming.”
“Our concerns were how the process was going to be handled,” said another registrar. “It’s not only been haphazard for registrars’ offices, think of the individuals affected.”
Mistakes were made as the state rushed to get McAuliffe’s order executed before the 2016 election—voting rights were restored for 132 individuals that remained in custody because they were deemed “sexually violent predators,” and several violent felons that remained in prison were discovered to have mistakenly had rights restored.
Included were a man that attempted to murder a woman by locking her in a house after lighting a mattress on fire, and another who pointed his gun at a state trooper while fleeing from police by car.
McAuliffe’s office excused the mistakes by saying that it was “obviously a massive administrative undertaking” and that it was “working constantly to refine the working administrative database that we’re using to implement this process.”
The mistakes led Republicans to bash the order as “reckless,” but McAuliffe shielded the order from oversight by keeping the list of felons confidential and denying Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests despite guidance from the state’s official FOIA council.
McAuliffe’s attempt to restore all 206,000 individuals’ rights with one order was stopped by Virginia’s supreme court, but he circumvented their ruling by giving clemency to 13,000 individuals on a case-by-case basis.
A Republican leader in the legislature responded to McAuliffe’s Thursday rejection by stating that he has observed for years “how hard Virginia Democrats work to protect the maximum potential for voter fraud.”
The White House has stated the goal of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is “to increase the American people’s confidence in the integrity of our election systems.”
“The integrity of the vote is a foundation of our democracy; this bipartisan commission will review ways to strengthen that integrity in order to protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote,” Pence said on a call with commission members on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Pence says there was no objection to the request for information from states from any members of the commission, which includes four Democrats.
The commission is scheduled to have its first meeting on July 19.