In statehouses they control across the country, Republicans have erected barriers to voting; judging by their votes, they would surely have done the same thing in Virginia had they controlled the legislature these past two years. Instead, from their perch in the minority, they warned darkly that by expanding early voting and passing other laws to encourage turnout, Democrats were paving the way for fraud.
In the event, there was no significant fraud in the state’s elections, but Virginia’s overall turnout did surge to more than 55 percent of registered voters. That was the highest share in any gubernatorial balloting in nearly three decades, and the 3.29 million votes cast amounted to roughly 675,000 more than the most recent race for governor, in 2017.
Both parties broadly exceeded get-out-the-vote expectations in what was the closest outcome the state has seen in a governor’s race since 1989. But Republicans, who bitterly resisted bills intended to draw more voters to the polls, benefited the most — especially in outer suburban and rural counties, where Mr. Youngkin trounced his Democratic opponent, former governor Terry McAuliffe.
Among the GOP leaders who resisted expanded voting rights was Del. Todd Gilbert (Shenandoah), who has been picked by fellow Republican lawmakers to be the House speaker when Virginia’s legislature reconvenes in January. “I think it’s obvious that Democrats want to loosen the rules that assisted them in the last election and that so greatly contributed to undermining confidence in the election,” Mr. Gilbert, still the minority leader in Virginia’s House, said in a news conference early this year as legislation to broaden voting access moved through the General Assembly.
Now that the torrent of votes enabled by that legislation has contributed to a stunning GOP victory, Republicans in Virginia and elsewhere face a choice. They may continue to push to impede access to the polls, buying into then-President Donald Trump’s view, expressed in an interview last year, that much higher voting levels mean “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Or they may embrace the Virginia model in which a spike in turnout turns into a jump ball for the two parties.
It’s true that in Virginia, early in-person voters, and especially early by-mail voters, have tilted toward Democrats. But that is no justification for barriers that would make voting less convenient. The truth is, Republicans aren’t afraid of fraud, because there is none to speak of. What they have really feared is competition. For rational members of the party, Virginia’s election should be cause to rethink.