Mysterious Election Corruption in Prince William County, Virginia
Attorney General Jason Miyares announced 3 weeks ago Wednesday that a grand jury has indicted former Prince William County Registrar Michele White on two felonies and one misdemeanor for incidents occurring around the time of the 2020 election. Specifically, she is charged with:
- Between August 1st and December 31st, 2020: Corrupt conduct as an election official (Va.
Code sec. 24.2-1001.B).
- Between November 3rd and November 10th, 2020: False statement by an election official (Va.
Code sec. 24.2-1016).
- Between August 1st and December 31st, 2020: Willful neglect of duty as an election official
(Va. Code sec. 24.2-1001.A).
Unfortunately, the Attorney General’s announcement provided few other details, so it is uncertain if the alleged corruption is financial or electoral in nature; but among election integrity groups, Prince William is perceived as one of the most likely counties to suffer from significant election fraud.
I chair the Prince William County Election Integrity Working Group, and also work with state-wide integrity groups like Virginians for America First and Virginia Fair Elections. Although I don’t know her personally, Michele White does have a reputation in the election integrity community. She served as the county’s Registrar from 2015 to 2021, and stories are told by people who did know her of an office roiled by internal conflicts and very loose management stretching several years before the 2020 election. Longtime employees believe they were forced out of their jobs for going to the Electoral Board over matters Ms. White could not or would not manage.
At a Jan. 6, 2021 meeting, the Electoral Board passed a measure requiring White to meet in a full-day work session with the board and the Human Resources Department to develop a memorandum of understanding. This was months after the offense date for the first two charges of Aug. 1, 2020, court records state and the second date for the false-statement charge was Nov. 3, 2020, Election Day.
In March of 2021, Ms. White left her job as Registrar after a meeting with the county Electoral Board. We don’t know if she left voluntarily or was pushed, or whether her departure was related to the current charges against her. She transferred to be the Town Clerk of Occoquan. At the time, she was embroiled in a dispute with a local election integrity activist over her non-response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which a local judge had agreed to mediate. After a short time she again transferred to work for the Police Department.
She resigned on March 29, 2021, after the county Electoral Board met in closed session, according to online minutes at the Prince William County Office of Elections. She did not give a public explanation. Any reports in main stream media will say her actions had minimal impact on elections, but I am not sure those are responsible statements by the press or any office.
Numerous employees left when Michele transferred. According to former employees, the Electoral Board knew of personnel problems in the office and of her loose office management. The office took short days in between elections, working a couple hours in the morning followed by jaunts to the gym and long lunches. There were little to no procedures on place for any part of the election process, according to later Registrars.
A clue suggestive of financial corruption is provided by a routine audit that was conducted of the Prince William Elections Department around this time. The audit report, dated July 20, 2021, shows a high risk of noncompliance in time keeping and contracts during Ms. White’s tenure. We do know that Ms. White’s received $631,430.50 in what is affectionately called “Zuckerbucks” from the Center for Technology and Civic Life for the 2020 election. The funding was used for equipment, drive through voting, temporary workers, and a call center. This ability to receive third party funding has since been outlawed by Virginia’s General Assembly, after allegations it was used to introduce insecure election processes and drive turnout in heavily Democratic districts.
Another clue suggests election corruption. In August 2021, county resident and data analyst Jon Lareau applied methodology developed by the National Academy of Sciences to detect election fraud in developing countries to Virginia’s 2020 election and saw data that did not add up (report). Jon and I met with our Electoral Board member to discuss the data and he advised us to inspect the Statements of Results (tally tapes) kept at the General Registrar office. These tally tapes come right from the scanners on election night and are what the county uses to manually enter election results into the Commonwealth’s election system, called VERIS (Virginia Election Registration Information System).
Beginning in August 2021, I tried for many months to get these tally tapes, which under Virginia law should be available to the public for inspection but was denied by the acting Registrar (Ms. White’s replacement), and the state Department of Elections. When a new Registrar for Prince William County was appointed, I arranged with him to inspect the tally tapes. A few weeks later he called me to tell me he had looked at the tally tapes himself while preparing for our inspection and saw issues important enough to report to the State Board of Elections.
The Registrar’s report prompted the State Board of Elections to call for an investigation of Prince William County by the Attorney General. It seems likely that this investigation led directly to the indictment of Ms. White, although we will not know the details until this all comes out in court. Whether for financial or electoral, or a combination of both, this acknowledgment and prosecution of election corruption is a historic event in Virginia.
We are still promised public inspection of these 2020 tally tapes once they return from the Attorney General’s office. Meantime, Michele White showed up in court with no lawyer on September 23, 2022 asking for a delay until December and that was a no go for the AG office.