The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GOP’s candidate for Virginia governor pivots on the ‘big lie’

Glenn Youngkin, the GOP nominee for Virginia governor, greets a poll worker at the drive-through primary in Annandale on May 8. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

WITH AN “election integrity” plan that was his campaign’s only semi-elaborated proposal, Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin winked at the “big lie” and his party’s Trumpist base on his way to winning the GOP nomination this month. Then, days after his victory, he edged away from the fiction that the 2020 election was marred by fraud, an issue he’d previously dodged. “Yeah,” he said last week when asked whether President Biden’s win was legitimate. “He’s our president.”

Mr. Youngkin’s pivot was smart politics, nimbly executed as he shifts toward a stance less likely to alienate moderate and swing voters, especially in the populous Northern Virginia suburbs. Yet he is still trying to have it both ways, as though there were neutral ground between fact and fiction in last year’s election. There isn’t.

His subtle straddle is embedded in the stated justification for his five-point “election integrity” proposal, a vague compendium of ideas for verifying mail-in votes, auditing voting machines, strengthening voter ID and establishing a “politically independent” state elections department. Disingenuously, Mr. Youngkin presents this blueprint as nonpartisan because “both parties have long raised concerns” about election fraud — including Democrats who supposedly regarded the 2016 presidential election as “rigged.”

This is false, but it’s not new. It is a page from the playbook of prominent Republicans such as Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), who, sidestepping his own party’s assault on democratic norms, blamed Democrats for trying to “delegitimize the results of the 2016 election.” In fact, nearly every major Democratic leader acknowledged Donald Trump’s victory. By contrast, eight Republican senators and 139 Republican representatives voted against certifying the 2020 election, based on spurious allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Those allegations were made exclusively by Republicans themselves; the campaign to subvert trust in U.S. democracy has been a Republican project. By pretending that election integrity is a nonpartisan “democracy issue,” Mr. Youngkin feigns ignorance of recent history and the GOP’s role in it.

The degree of fraud in Virginia statewide elections has been negligible. (When we asked the Youngkin campaign to cite examples of significant fraudulent voting in the state, we got no response.) The truth is, Mr. Youngkin’s plan has nothing to do with election “integrity” and everything to do with paying homage to Mr. Trump’s “big lie.”

It may also dovetail with Republican attempts elsewhere to erect barriers to voting. Why, for example, should Virginia toughen its voter-identification requirements? What problem would that solve? Already, state law specifies the documents that may be accepted as proof of identity at voting locations, including a driver’s license or other official ID issued by Virginia or one of its localities, a U.S. passport, a valid student-ID card, an employee photo ID and so forth.

Even if belated, it’s good that Mr. Youngkin recognizes the 2020 election was on the level. Yet by spotlighting the integrity of elections and mistrust in their outcomes as top concerns, as he has, he dignifies fake claims of widespread irregularities. That is the real threat to American democracy.

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