The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Youngkin is saying the right thing on election fraud. So is election integrity still his ‘top priority’?

Former governor Terry McAuliffe, left, and his Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, after their debate in Grundy, Va., on Thursday. (Steve Helber/AP)

On Thursday, in the first gubernatorial debate before Virginia’s Nov. 2 election, the Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, took pains to distinguish himself from former president Donald Trump, who has endorsed him while also predicting that Democrats will try to steal the election. Asked if he, like Mr. Trump, believes Democrats will attempt to steal the election, Mr. Youngkin replied, “No.” He also said he does not think previous votes in the commonwealth were marred by significant fraud and that he would concede if he loses the vote.

Those statements were simple acknowledgments of truth and democratic norms, which in ordinary times would go without saying, without asking, and certainly merit no commendation. These days, when polls indicate more than three-quarters of Republicans say President Biden did not win the 2020 elections, there is a temptation to exhale with relief when a GOP candidate rejects lunacy. Mr. Youngkin has said the right thing, and that’s important.

Follow Editorial Board's opinionsFollow

It’s also worth remembering the “Election Integrity Task Force” on which Mr. Youngkin, a wealthy former private-equity executive, based his emergence from political obscurity to capture the Virginia GOP’s gubernatorial nomination last fall — and which for months remained his only fully developed campaign plank in the general election against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. It’s worth remembering it partly because Mr. Youngkin, though he no longer mentions it, has not renounced it.

For months Mr. Youngkin’s website invited Virginians to sign up for their “membership card” in his task force on election integrity, to address what he insisted was a pressing “democracy issue that affects all of us.” That was a straight pander for Mr. Trump’s conspiracy-addled base; it also implicitly lent credence to the conspiracies themselves, and the pernicious “big lie” that Mr. Biden’s election was illegitimate.

It was not until after Mr. Youngkin secured the nomination that he acknowledged Mr. Biden is the legitimate president. He has not suggested his election task force is a dead letter — even if it has quietly disappeared from his website, where it once was the centerpiece.

No issue is more pressing to U.S. democracy than the question of whether Americans of both parties will trust, honor and abide by election results. The violent insurrection of Jan. 6 by a pro-Trump mob was a display of the costs involved in failing to do so.

That leaves some questions for Mr. Youngkin. If he thinks, as he now says correctly, that no serious fraud has occurred in Virginia elections, then what is the purpose of his task force? Moreover, does election integrity remain his “top priority,” as he stated repeatedly? And does he still insist on undertaking his “five-point election integrity plan,” which includes “auditing” voting machines, tightening Virginia’s already more-than-adequate voter ID rules, and further scrutinizing mail-in applications and ballots? There is a contradiction between that agenda, which plays to outlandish conspiracy theories, and his newfound acknowledgment that elections can be trusted. Still, given today’s climate, that acknowledgment is welcome.