RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s new Election Commissioner Susan Beals, who was appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin last spring, faces her biggest test yet with early voting now underway.

In a one-on-one interview on Monday, Beals insisted that voters should have faith in the results this fall.

“They should. I have confidence in our state’s election officials and the work that they do,” Beals said.

But Beals defended a controversial new Election Integrity Unit within the Office of the Attorney General.

In a press release earlier this month, Attorney General Jason Miyares said his goal is to increase voter confidence and ensure election laws are applied consistently across the state. However, critics have called it a waste of taxpayer resources and a nod to President Donald Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, which lack evidence.

“I think that the AG’s office works very well with us to provide counsel, to provide legal advice to us, and to investigate issues that we bring to them,” Beals said. “We have a couple of things that we’ve turned over to them to ask them to investigate already.” 

Beals said she couldn’t share specifics on those issues while they’re being investigated. 

Asked if fears of election fraud are founded, Beals said, “I think that people absolutely are entitled to ask questions and we’re happy to provide answers. I would encourage people, if they have a question about elections, to seek out an election official.”

In an email on Monday, the Attorney General’s office said they have reviewed hundreds of documents detailing concerns from citizens and elected officials and no evidence of widespread fraud has been found that would have impacted the 2020 election results.

Beals previously worked for state Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), who has frequently made claims about election fraud without evidence. Chase said she presented evidence to Attorney General Miyares in a meeting but his office has not disclosed any conclusions or active investigations resulting from that meeting.

Earlier this month, Chase urged Governor Youngkin to issue an executive order calling for the use of hand-counted paper ballots and the suspension of all “voting computers.” In a recent radio interview, Chase claimed they are connected to the internet, a myth the Virginia Department of Election’s website debunks.

“The only way to restore that trust is paper ballots and hand counts,” Chase said.

Beals said, in 2017, Virginia switched back to paper ballots and decertified touch-screen voting machines to prevent hacking. She said Virginia law prohibits voting machines from being connected to the internet.

“Every single voter votes a paper ballot, and that is a permanent record of the voter’s intent. The great thing about paper ballots is that we keep them after the election. We store them at the clerk reports office and so if they are needed for a recount, we have them there and we can recount them if we need to,” Beals said. “The voting machines that we have, they’re really counting machines. They’re just counting the ballots that the voter has marked themselves.” 

Beals said election results in Virginia are looked at three different times before they’re certified, including by the precinct chief, the local electoral board and the State Board of Elections. 

With early voting now underway, Beals is also overseeing some recent changes to state election laws.

For example, as of July 1, Beals said the state is updating its voter rolls by removing deceased voters more regularly. She said they’re receiving information from the Division of Vital Statistics every week. 

“Once we are notified, we are sending that information to the localities and they are removing those deceased voters from the rolls immediately,” Beals said. 

The Virginia Department of Elections website says the claim that a record number of deceased voters cast ballots in 2020 is also a myth.

Under another new state law, those who miss the Oct. 17 voter registration deadline will still be able to cast a provisional ballot but Beals said it’s better not to procrastinate.

Beals said her number one concern this election season is making sure Virginians know where to vote. She said the state is sending out millions of notices with polling location instructions. She said those reminders are critical since the redistricting process resulted in changes for some voters.

“We have had some growth in Virginia. So there are some localities that have added new polling locations. It may be that you have to go vote in a different place than you have for the last ten years,” Beals said. 

One reform that’s not ready to go live this election season is a long-awaited update to the Virginia Election Registration and Information System, or VERIS, after the state’s watchdog agency found problems.

According to the Washington Post, the new system was previously set to operate side-by-side with the old one for most of 2022 but Youngkin’s office said, “mismanagement of deadlines resulted in a project that is critically behind schedule.”

Beals said they are currently involved in negotiations to procure a new statewide voter registration system but it won’t be ready for this fall’s election. She couldn’t confirm what the previous timeline for the project was and, asked what the new timeline for completion is, she said she didn’t know.