(The Center Square) — The fourth Virginia Election Integrity Summit will take place in Richmond today.
Hosted by Virginia Fair Elections, whose slogan is “Easy to vote, hard to cheat,” summit attendees will hear from seven speakers on topics like the role of money and influence and local electoral boards in elections, local election integrity task forces and poll watchers and shifting.
Though the VFE coalition was founded in 2021 on the heels of the 2020 presidential election, there was growing concern about the issue of election integrity among the coalition’s founders before then. That concern intensified when, in the spring of 2020, then-governor Ralph Northam signed several election reforms into law that the founders believed would dangerously reduce transparency.
“They broadened mail-in voting and the policies opened the door so there was a little bit more opportunity for fraud,” said Jonathan Haines, executive vice president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, the organization that heads the coalition.
As the election grew closer, individuals and grassroots groups also began voicing concerns.
“There were frustrations before the general election. Then the general election comes along, and there were all the issues of insecurity, and the grassroots got fired up,” Haines told The Center Square. “In 2021, we were like, ‘Well, we need to be able to provide a platform and a place for the individuals who are feeling disenfranchised and those who feel that something has to be done.’”
“The coalition was the result of an outcry for election reform,” Haines said.
Virginia Fair Elections hosted its first summit in the spring of 2021, another later that summer, one in 2022, and now the fourth will be held today. The third summit was the largest, with about 275 people in attendance. The others, including this one, have hovered between 150-200 attendees.
Though most might label VFE’s founding organizations and the event’s speakers as conservative, or at least center-right, Haines said that a growing distrust among American voters — regardless of political persuasion — has emerged since around 2000.
“There has been a distrust with the outcome of almost every presidential election since 2000. You’ve had a large portion of the American population on each side of the political aisle at some point that have cried foul,” Haines said.
As a result, Haines thinks that the summit and other workshops the organization provides online throughout the year would be helpful to any American.
“I think everybody of any political persuasion who cares about the integrity of our elections should know what it means to be a poll watcher, should know what it means to be an election officer and try to take the opportunity to work an election,” Haines said.
“Everybody needs to know what’s going on and do their part to feel comfortable and confident with the outcome of all elections and advocate for transparency, so that way the faith and trust in elections can be restored.”
Some more specific topics discussed at the summit include ranked choice voting, vulnerable voters, how nonprofits and charities have been used to unlawfully influence elections and how private dollars have been used to influence elections in ways that Haines says “skirt the law.”