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GOP leaders say voter fraud 'exists and is a threat' in Virginia

Republican leaders told reporters on Thursday that an alleged case of voter fraud in Harrisonburg, Virginia proves that those who say voter fraud is a myth are "being naive."

Earlier this month, Andrew Spieles, a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, confessed to authorities he had filed voter registration forms for as many as 19 deceased individuals, including the father of a retired Virginia judge.

The fraudulent registrations were discovered when an assistant voter registrar noticed the name on one of the forms matched that of the deceased father of retired judge Richard Claybrook.

Claybrook told AMI Newswire the Harrisonburg registrar's office contacted him before it sent a confirmation of registration letter addressed to his father at his mother's home.

Claybrook said the idea that someone would use his name in such a manner was "disgusting."

"My dad was a law abiding citizen who served his country in World War II, and his community as an educator," Claybrook said. "This situation is just appalling to me and my mother."

Claybrook notified Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst's office, which is looking into the allegations.

The FBI is also investigating, and is reviewing all the voter registration forms submitted by HarrisonburgVOTES, the group Spieles was working with when he submitted the illegal forms.

The group has disavowed Spieles, who was fired once the allegations became known.

The Harrisonburg registrar's office said it will cancel the registration forms Spieles submitted containing the names of deceased persons.

Delegate Rob Bell, who is also a GOP candidate for the party's 2017 attorney general nomination, said "it was only a good catch," and "extraordinary diligence by a deputy registrar that caught this."

Howell said voter fraud is "difficult to prosecute." Nevertheless, he said Virginia voters should be "alarmed by it," because the allegations are "proof that voter fraud exists and is a threat."

Howell cited a 2012 case from Northern Virginia, where 17 voters cast ballots in both Fairfax County and in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Virginia enacted a law in 2013 requiring individuals to present photo identification before being allowed to cast a ballot. Virginia's Democratic party challenged the law's constitutionality in federal court.

In May, 2016, Federal District Judge Henry Hudson ruled the law was constitutional, and had no "discriminatory intent" toward minority voters. 

In a 2015 report for the Brennan Center for Justice titled "The Truth About Voter Fraud," author Justin Levitt said actual cases of fraud are "extraordinarily rare."

"This is because fraud by individual voters is a singularly foolish and ineffective way to attempt to win an election," Levitt said.

"Each act of voter fraud in connection with a federal election risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, in addition to any state penalties. In return, it yields at most one incremental vote. That single extra vote is simply not worth the price," Levitt said.

Bell called the state's voter ID law "the last line of defense" against voter fraud.

Republican Delegate Mark Cole said part of the challenge in crafting such voting requirements is striking "the right balance between ease of registration, and maintaining the integrity of elections."

"Voter fraud is an issue in Virginia," Cole said. "Anybody who says it's not is being naive."