Virginia poised to elect 2020 election denier

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A Republican elections attorney who played a key role in trying to overturn the vote in multiple swing states in the 2020 election is coasting to election next month for the Virginia statehouse.

A handful of party insiders have tried for months to stop the candidate, Tim Griffin, from winning election. But despite raising concerns with at least a dozen GOP leaders, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin, their effort has fallen largely on deaf ears.

Griffin worked alongside former President Donald Trump’s campaign for months to fan false claims of election fraud around 2020 and played a key role in trying to overturn the vote in Michigan.

Now, in his current race in Virginia, former opponents are accusing him of registering to vote and filing court paperwork using addresses where he doesn’t live. Nonetheless, Griffin is the strong favorite to win next month’s election for Virginia’s heavily Republican 53rd House district.

Griffin’s efforts in 2020 included challenging grants that local governments in primarily minority areas used to increase voting access via drop boxes and working with Republican officials in Wayne County, Mich., as they prepared affidavits to rescind their votes. As higher-profile attorneys involved in the effort to overthrow the election, including Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis, plead guilty, Griffin’s ascent shows there have been few penalties so far for many of the foot soldiers in the effort.

Ellis and Griffin both held the same title, special counsel, at the Thomas More Society, which led lawsuits seeking to overturn election results in multiple battleground states. The group’s legal efforts ran parallel to those driven by Powell.

Two conservative women have spent the last seven months trying to raise concerns within the party, but they’ve heard little in response. The silence over possible illegal voting is hypocritical, they said, and raises questions about the sincerity of the “election integrity” platform that has helped elevate Youngkin, Trump and many others. And it makes them feel disillusioned with their party.

“They just covered everything up and just strung me along,” says Ginger Burg, an Amherst County school board member who says she’s helped GOP campaigns, including Youngkin’s. “That’s why I was so willing to come forward. I took it to everyone,” she said, referring to correspondence she’s had with multiple officials, copies of which she provided to POLITICO.

Griffin did not respond to text messages and emails sent to him and his campaign. Macaulay Porter, a Youngkin spokesperson, declined to comment.

Burg is the former campaign manager for Sarah Mays, who lost to Griffin in the primary this spring. Both she and Mays have been leading the charge to question Griffin’s residency and realize their efforts may come across as sour grapes. The pair says they have a long allegiance to the Republican Party — and they’re trying to stop someone they see as a fraud. They’re staunch conservatives, they noted, who like Griffin made banning abortion a top campaign issue.

“I wanted to stay out of it and just run a clean, shiny campaign,” said Mays, who runs a Christian daycare and a gun accessory business. “Then it occurred to me: How can I stand before everyone saying that I will uphold morals and values and represent the district and just sit back and say nothing?”

Republicans and Democrats are locked in a heated battle for control of the state Legislature, meaning Republican unity in Richmond would be key in either a narrow majority or minority.

Few observers think Griffin will lose to Democrat Sam Soghor in a district where, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, 73 percent of voters favored Youngkin for governor in 2021.

Legal challenges to stop Griffin over his residency status have failed. The local registrar in April dismissed a voter-eligibility complaint, saying the detached garage he used as his address to register to vote meets “the residency requirements of a non-traditional residence.” More recently he said in a June court filing that he lives in an apartment complex.

“The Republican Party has so much control here, there’s nothing gonna change this,” said Donald Toms, one of the Bedford Republicans who filed the complaint. He added: “I’m to the point where this is a waste of my time. He’s gonna get elected.”

Griffin rose to prominence for his efforts to help Trump overturn the election. He grew up in central Virginia and went to Lynchburg Christian Academy and Appalachian School of Law. He also worked as an assistant Commonwealth’s attorney in both Bedford and Amherst counties in Virginia.

Griffin was also a special counsel to the Thomas More Society, effectively serving as a deputy to attorney Phillip Kline, whose efforts included trying to deliver a slate of pro-Trump electors to the Michigan legislature. Griffin and Kline’s work was part of an initiative called The Amistad Project, which was critical to promoting false claims of election fraud and then helping Trump keep his claims of a rigged election front and center.

Amistad Project filed lawsuits in at least six battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — to allow GOP-led legislatures to appoint false presidential electors after voters had already cast their ballots for Joe Biden. Former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani described Griffin’s group as an election integrity “partner.”

“Tim is a national leader on election integrity,” Griffin’s campaign website read, citing his work with Kline and the Amistad Project.

On the night of the 2020 election, Griffin summoned volunteers to challenge the vote count of absentee ballots taking place at Detroit’s TCF Center, the Detroit Free Press reported. “It’s just not fair,” said Griffin, who “stayed all night” there, “intent on protecting Trump from what he believed was a fraudulent process.”

After the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Griffin sought to rally local activists in Michigan behind efforts to challenge the midterm elections. When the activists said they were dispirited after failing to overturn the 2020 election, he led them to believe it could still happen.

“You guys are in an impossible fight now, but I feel like reinforcements are on the way,” he told Michigan GOP activists during a June 18, 2021, Zoom meeting obtained by POLITICO. He predicted thousands of Biden votes “down here” in Fulton County, Ga., could be thrown out and that Michigan could be next: “Hopefully it’s inspiring to you guys.”

As Griffin gained prominence as an elections attorney, he became Bedford County’s GOP chair in February 2020. Yet, months later, he was cited by law enforcement for “disturbing wildlife,” specifically petting wild ponies in Maryland. On those forms, he listed an out-of-county address in Lynchburg.

Beginning in November of that year, the petitioners allege Griffin voted in three general elections and one primary while registered to vote at an Airbnb address in Virginia’s 53rd district. But in a November 2020 notarized court document, Griffin said he had stopped living at the Airbnb that July.

“He basically does not have a permanent address,” Griffin’s attorney said in a November 2021 court hearing over custody of his children. During that hearing, the owner of the Airbnb said the two had no formal rental agreement, though he had allowed Griffin to use it as a mailing address.

On March 2 of this year, the same day he filed to run for state delegate, Griffin registered to vote from a detached garage in the same city of Forest, Bedford County.

A group of Bedford County residents filed a complaint the next month, seeking to get Griffin removed from the voter rolls for not meeting residency requirements to register to vote. The complaint said there was no finished bathroom in that garage, making it highly unlikely Griffin was actually living there. “We went by and saw the garage and realized there’s no way he could live there,” said Toms.

The local registrar, Barbara Gunter, rejected the complaint, saying during a public hearing that “It is my decision that Mr. Griffin has both a place of abode, and has established domicile sufficient to meet the residency requirements of a non-traditional residence.”

Griffin’s critics believe Gunter may have been under political pressure — Republicans nominate the majority of the members of the elections board that oversees her job — but Gunter rejected that claim.

“My board stayed in their lane. They did not impact my decision at all. They did not talk to me about it. They knew it was my call and my call alone,” she told POLITICO.

Ann Duncan, the Democrat who chairs the board, defended Gunter as a “very, very dedicated registrar” and said she “followed all procedures and ruled with all the information she had on hand,” citing tax statements and other documents Griffin presented.

Griffin is now using an apartment complex as his address, though he declined to provide a copy of his lease and his name does not appear on the complex’s electronic directory, according to a Cardinal News article.

Burg says the group of concerned Republicans isn’t giving up. They hired a private investigator who, Burg said, has only once seen Griffin’s car in the parking lot of the apartment complex.

Griffin has the support of a number of community leaders, including the Commonwealth’s attorneys he worked for in Bedford and Amherst. The efforts to stop his ascension to office — including a website detailing his residency problems that Mays says she did not create — have not made a dent on him politically.

Among the individuals backing his run is former Virginia House Speaker Vance Wilkins, who is credited by many for the GOP takeover of the Virginia House of Delegates in the late 1990s and remains active in local Republican politics.

Prior to the May convention, Burg said, she texted Youngkin on his personal cell phone with links to accusations about Griffin’s residency. While Youngkin did not respond, said Burg, his attorney Richard Cullen did.

“He just said he was calling for Glenn” and to “let the process play out,” said Burg. “I told him his process sucked.”

Weeks later, as it appeared Griffin was about to win the primary, Burg texted Rich Anderson, the state’s GOP chair, to tell him he now had a nominee who “has committed election fraud and lives in an illegal garage apartment.” Anderson responded: “Is it publicly announced? And what was the vote? Want to tell the Gov.”

Anderson said the exchange was part of his effort to report all election results to state officials, including the governor. “That is my standard practice,” he said in an email. “The role that the state party and I play is to ensure compliance with party rules and be agnostic about candidates and eventual nominees,” he said.

Anderson dismissed questions about Griffin’s residency as a personal feud. The issue, he said, is being “driven principally by those who had a vested interest in Ms. Mays’ campaign and refuse to accept or respect the outcome of the democratic process.”

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