Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee in this year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia, attended a so-called “election integrity” rally sponsored by the local Republican Party at Liberty University on Saturday. Other members of the GOP statewide ticket took a pass after news of the event drew public criticism. The Washington Post reported that the event was organized by Melvin Adams, “a supporter of former president Donald Trump who was outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
Youngkin, who has tried to position himself as a centrist moderate while accepting Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement, has passed up opportunities on the campaign trail to refute conspiracy theorists’ beliefs that Trump won the election and might be reinstated by the courts. Instead, he told a voter last week that “the courts move slowly.”
Youngkin has tried to have it both ways, putting “election integrity”—a term used to undergird false claims of voter fraud with promises of audited votes and new voting restrictions—at the center of his campaign while grudgingly acknowledging in May, once he secured the Republican nomination, that President Joe Biden holds office legitimately.
“Election integrity” is the misleading term adopted by promoters of Trump’s false “stolen election” claims, including activists in the so-called Stop the Steal movement who tried to keep Trump in power. Those claims, and the “election integrity” label, are being used to justify passage of new voter suppression laws around the country, and Youngkin has followed suit, pledging to impose more restrictive voter ID requirements in the state should he be elected.
The Richmond Times Dispatch noted that some Virginia Republicans have demanded a “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election, even though Biden won the state by more than 450,000 votes and more than 10 percentage points, and there is no evidence that the state’s elections were marred by fraud.
In a gubernatorial debate among Republican candidates in April, Youngkin responded to a question about Dominion voting machines by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most important issue we’re going to talk about.” (A false narrative advanced by Trump boosters including lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood holds that machines made by Dominion Voting Systems were somehow flipping the votes they recorded.)
A Youngkin staffer defended the candidate’s position by using a Republican talking point formulated to put a friendly face on voter suppression laws, claiming that by “restoring” a voter ID law in the state, Youngkin would make it “easy for every eligible person to vote and harder to cheat.” But voter ID laws often functionally lock out people who don’t drive, or residential students whose drivers’ licenses were issued via their parents’ addresses.
The voter-fraud myth is not the only right-wing talking point being pushed by Youngkin. The Republican Governors Association has been promoting a clip of Youngkin being interviewed by Fox Business personality and former Trump aide Larry Kudlow, who told Youngkin, “I’m told you’re having great success” by exploiting a “revolt” against critical race theory, an academic approach to the study of racism that is being distorted by right-wing activists to inflame racial resentments and turn out right-wing voters in future elections.
Youngkin is far from the only Virginia Republican promoting Trumpist claims about the election with fear-of-fraud rhetoric. Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, now dean of the school of government at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, has called the 2020 presidential election a “coup,” hosted a so-called “election integrity” conference in March that prominently featured promoters of conspiracy theories.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer recently exposed that the massive “election integrity” infrastructure being deployed by Republican officials and right-wing activists is being funded by many of the same deep-pocketed foundations that have funded the modern right-wing political movement, including the Bradley Foundation. One of the Bradley Foundation’s board members, attorney Cleta Mitchell, is at the heart of multiple projects claiming to promote “election integrity” that are advancing restrictive voting laws.