Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin is urging Virginia voters to cast ballots early, but some county GOP officials are sounding alarms on the security of the early voting system — a narrative that in the past has proved dangerous for the party.
Arguments that early voting can lead to lost ballots and identity fraud dredge up memories of the Georgia Senate runoff election in January, when President Trump‘s claims of a rigged election were blamed for suppressing Republican turnout and handing Democrats control of the upper chamber of Congress.
Republican concerns across Virginia mirror the sentiment of Mr. Trump, who continues to tout unproven accusations that mass voter fraud cost him reelection in November.
“There is fraud. There’s no question about it,” said Jim Trollinger of the Fairfax Republican Party. “People say, ‘Oh, that’s conspiracy,’ but that’s baloney. If you look at the facts and you look at what happened [in November], that was a fraudulent election.”
Mr. Trollinger said his hesitance about embracing early voting in Virginia lies in the 45-day window. He said the time frame offers “too much opportunity for fraud.”
“This was developed by the Democrats in this state, which has become more advantageous to fraud than the rest of the states in the union,” Mr. Trollinger told The Washington Times.
Republican strategist Doug Heye said party officials in Virginia are taking risks.
“If they don’t believe that the election is going to be free and fair, your voters are less likely to turn out, and that’s a big part of why Republicans lost in Georgia,” he said. “It’s part of why I think you’re seeing Youngkin try and downplay that.”
Mr. Youngkin, who voted early with his wife in Fairfax County last week, told supporters to take advantage of the state’s long window for casting ballots.
“I think that the process is going to be fair,” Mr. Youngkin said. “The process is going to reflect who got the most votes.”
The Virginia General Assembly expanded early voting last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shifted voting protocols in many states and localities.
Several states also loosened rules for mail-in balloting, which critics say is the voting method most susceptible to fraud.
Vance Wilkins, the chairman of the Amherst County Republican Party, said he plans to vote early because he is worried that someone else may use his identity.
“When you have an election that goes over 45 days, you have a lot more chances to play with the system. You can go down and vote and use my name, and there’s no photo identification required,” said Mr. Wilkins, a former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Mr. Youngkin has been walking a thin line by rejecting claims of rigged elections and promising more safeguards in Virginia, including voter ID laws.
Terry McAuliffe, Mr. Youngkin‘s Democratic opponent, has used the Republican’s “election integrity” campaign to tie him to Mr. Trump‘s charges of a stolen election.
“Glenn Youngkin said ‘election integrity is THE most pressing issue facing Virginia,” Mr. McAuliffe tweeted recently. “This guy is more focused on Donald Trump‘s ridiculous conspiracies than he is on the real issues facing our Commonwealth.”
During their first debate, Mr. Youngkin pledged to accept the outcome of the election if Mr. McAuliffe wins. He dismissed the idea that fraud played a role in Virginia last year when Joseph R. Biden defeated Mr. Trump by a 10-point margin.
Asked about Republican officials’ claims, the Youngkin campaign said it trusted the process at the local level.
“The Republican Party of Virginia has been working for months to build the most sophisticated election operations team ever seen to ensure that every polling location is safe and secure and every legal vote is counted,” said Youngkin campaign spokeswoman
Encouraging people to vote early, she said, is “the best way to win back the commonwealth and ensure Virginia has safe communities, a rip-roaring economy and the best education system.”
Mr. Youngkin edged out Mr. McAuliffe in a poll released last week after months of trailing the Democrat.
The University of Mary Washington poll showed Mr. Youngkin with 48% of support compared with 43% for Mr. McAuliffe.
The poll of 1,000 Virginia residents and 528 likely voters was conducted Sept. 7-13. It had a margin of error of 4.1% among likely voters and 3.1% with registered voters.