Walking a tightrope on ‘election integrity’

August 12, 2021 12:01 am

Glenn Youngkin addresses a crowd of supporters in Richmond during his first rally after winning the GOP’s nomination for governor. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

If Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor, displayed the same analytical skills he’s trumpeted on voting for any other issue, most Virginians would laugh him off the stage. 

His claims that elections need greater scrutiny in the commonwealth are ludicrous – and besides, Youngkin should know better. Yet the longtime businessman continues to highlight the issue because it plays well with Republicans who won’t concede President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election – and by a full 10 percentage points in Virginia

Truth be damned. The fact Trump also lost the 2016 contest in Virginia, before he bungled the response to the pandemic, is of no moment to his followers.

That doesn’t mean politicians should encourage irrational citizens. If party leaders and nominees can’t ‘fess up on such an obvious fact, how are they going to persuade Virginians when the circumstances are more nuanced and open to legitimate debate?

Youngkin is a businessman who touts, on his campaign website, his bachelor’s degree in engineering at Rice University; an MBA at Harvard Business School; and his quarter-century of experience at The Carlyle Group, where he was co-CEO of the global investment firm. The Virginia native is fond of saying he’s “not a typical politician.”

So why, with all of his business acumen and college degrees, did Youngkin take part in a so-called “election integrity” rally in Lynchburg over the weekend? Not even his GOP ballot mates, the nominees for attorney general and lieutenant governor, could stomach attending that farce. 

A Youngkin spokeswoman declined to respond about his participation in the 5th District party event. 

I also got no answer about a recent line in a Youngkin fundraising letter, in which he claimed there needs to be a “serious review of our voter rolls” so no dead people are registered. 

No one objects to that. But I wanted to know how many “dead people” had actually cast ballots. 

A state Department of Elections spokeswoman told me Tuesday it reviews files monthly and annually. Andrea Gaines also said the department has no records of anybody who’s deceased voting in 2020 and 2016. She pointed me to a report that showed, in a recent 12-month period, nearly 48,000 voters were removed from registration lists because they had died. 

Youngkin, in effect, raised a straw man. 

Never mind that a statewide audit of the 2020 election, released this spring, found virtually no chance the state’s voting system produced an inaccurate count. Never mind that the report said the audit is further evidence of “the integrity and validity” of the presidential election in the Old Dominion.

The collective response from Youngkin and some other Virginia Republicans? Pfft. 

You can bet the party, when it favors a particular project or initiative, won’t require the same amount of proof and documentation that it’s now demanding about election accuracy. 

Republicans have cynically decided to encourage “the big lie” their overlord promulgated, in which Trump claimed the election was stolen. His exhortations provoked the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The attack left several people dead and roughly 140 officers injured

It is to the commonwealth’s credit that Gov. Ralph Northam and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly made it easier to vote. The Assembly also just decided in the special session to budget $1.5 million for voter outreach and to fight “misinformation” about state elections – perhaps to blunt overheated claims by the opposition.

Other states, though, led by Republican legislatures and governors, have thrown up hurdles affecting primarily African-Americans, Latinos and other Democratic-leaning groups. Republicans have seen the demographic shifts taking place across the United States. They fear their platforms and rhetoric, too often inhospitable to people of color, won’t keep them in power. 

They also know the 2020 election had a record turnout of 160 million citizens. Trump, in a rare moment of honesty, admitted last year that when it’s easier to vote, it hurts the Republican Party. “The president made the comments as he dismissed a Democratic-led push for reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting,” The Guardian reported. 

Hence the push by more GOP-controlled legislatures to put the fix in. Broadening their appeal? Must be for suckers.

Some 17 states have enacted laws this year tightening the rules to cast ballots, according to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab. “Many of the bills target mail voting and other policies that helped safeguard the franchise during the coronavirus pandemic,” The Washington Post reported. 

In Arizona, for example, the Democratic secretary of state was stripped of power, and the legislature allowed third parties to flag ineligible voters to be removed from the rolls. The change will politicize the apparatus overseeing the franchise even more.

Elections ran well in Florida, but the state passed voting restrictions that limit access to drop boxes for returning mail ballots. 

Georgia, in a heartless move, banned handing out food and water within 150 feet of a polling place or 25 feet of a voter. Waiting in long lines in the cold or heat? Suck it up, Georgians. Of course, many of those precincts will be in cities that have large populations of Black and brown people. 

In Virginia, Youngkin is walking a tightrope, trying to keep his GOP base while luring enough independents and Democrats in November. He’s trying to break a streak in which Republicans haven’t won a statewide contest since 2009. 

That he would stake the effort partly on questions about the elections system is troubling. After all, if he defeats Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe (who has his own history about claiming an election was stolen) Youngkin could be calling the results into question.

See how that works?

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]