Virginia Governor Urges Republicans to Vote Early Despite Trump’s Skepticism

Virginia Governor Urges Republicans to Vote Early Despite Trump’s Skepticism – Early voting is set to commence in Virginia this Friday, marking the beginning of a critical 2023 US election cycle where all seats in the state senate and house of delegates are at stake. Notably, Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, has emerged as an unexpected proponent of this process.

In the past, it was customary for a sitting governor to encourage members of their party to vote early. However, the landscape has shifted due to former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims regarding widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election, often attributing these claims to early and absentee voting. Consequently, the Republican party’s conventional campaign tactics have been disrupted.

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As Republicans aim to secure full control of the Virginia legislature in the upcoming November elections, Governor Youngkin faces the delicate task of maximizing his party’s turnout while not alienating voters who remain deeply skeptical of early and absentee voting, largely due to Trump’s false assertions. Despite efforts by Youngkin’s supporters in the state legislature to limit voting accessibility, the governor contends that Republicans should capitalize on voting regulations previously implemented by Democrats. 

These regulations permit Virginians to participate in early and no-excuse absentee voting, starting as early as 45 days before an election. “Democrats put these rules in place while in control of Virginia’s government and have used these rules to their advantage by vastly outpacing Republicans in early and absentee voting,” Youngkin wrote in a USA Today op-ed last month. “We can either continue complaining, or we can recognize reality, beat the left at their own game and win elections.”

Youngkin’s strategy faces a formidable challenge in the form of Trump’s unfounded claims, which have deeply resonated with Republicans nationwide. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October revealed a stark divide: only 37% of midterm voters supporting Republican candidates expressed confidence in the accurate counting of absentee or mail-in ballots, while a much higher 88% of midterm voters supporting Democratic candidates shared this confidence.

Moreover, in 2021, a total of 19 states, predominantly under Republican control, enacted 34 laws that imposed restrictions on ballot access, as reported by the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. These laws included measures such as reducing early voting hours, imposing stricter requirements for absentee voting, and limiting the use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots. Despite Republicans’ unease over early voting, some party leaders have attempted to reframe the process as an essential component of their winning strategy for 2023 and 2024. 

In June, the Republican National Committee launched the “Bank Your Vote” campaign to boost rates of early and absentee voting. Trump himself recorded a video endorsing the campaign, urging his supporters to vote early even as he continued to falsely claim that Democrats “rigged the election against us in 2020.” These endeavors could be seen as a response to the Republican party’s underwhelming performance in the 2022 midterm elections, which some strategists attributed to the party’s reluctance to establish a robust early voting operation. 

However, few Republicans have embraced early voting as fervently as Youngkin. Governor Youngkin attributes part of his surprising victory in 2021—coming a year after Joe Biden carried the state by a substantial 10 percentage points—to early voting. He firmly believes that this strategy will prove advantageous for Republicans once again. To facilitate this, he initiated a program known as “Secure Your Vote Virginia,” aimed at offering step-by-step guidance to Republicans on how to cast their ballots through mail or early in-person voting.

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“I think it’s exactly the right strategy,” Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said of Youngkin’s early voting campaign. “The rules are the rules. And the governor is saying: to be competitive, Republicans have to play along.” Steve Knotts, who serves as the chair of the Fairfax County Republican party, recognizes that a significant portion of the voters he interacts with still favor the traditional practice of voting in person on election day. 

However, he, along with other party leaders, is advocating for fellow Republicans to take a precautionary step by registering for an absentee ballot. This measure ensures that they have a backup plan in case any unforeseen circumstances arise on election day. Importantly, Virginia law permits individuals who have received an absentee ballot but opt to vote in person on November 7th to do so. They can achieve this by returning their unopened absentee ballot at their designated polling place.

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Democrats have integrated this scenario into their campaign messaging, implying that if Youngkin and his supporters secure victory in November, they will promptly take steps to restrict ballot access. In response, the Democratic party of Virginia has initiated its early voting campaign called the Majority Project, a substantial operation with significant funding. 

Given the persistent skepticism among many Republicans regarding early and absentee voting, the topic of “election integrity” could become an inescapable point of contention if the party manages to shift the balance of power in the state senate, as Rozell forecasted.

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