(RICHMOND, Va.) — Virginia gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe called on his GOP opponent Glenn Youngkin to cancel his appearance at and denounce what the 5th Congressional District Republican Party is calling an “election integrity regional rally,” which coincides with the anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act first being signed into law.
Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, called on the 5th District Republicans to cancel the event altogether.
“We all know what Glenn Youngkin and Republicans mean when they talk about election integrity. They’re following Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen and pushing restricting measures that make it harder for folks to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” Swecker said in a virtual press conference Tuesday. “Here in Virginia, we fought hard to protect and expand the sacred right to vote, and we’re not about to let Glenn Youngkin drag us backwards.”
The two-day, paid event is scheduled for Aug. 6 and 7 at Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian institution in Lynchburg. Attendees can purchase “early bird tickets” through Friday, which cost $60 per individual and $110 per couple; after Friday, ticket price increases by $20 and $40, respectively, according to the flyer for the event.
Youngkin, along with the other statewide GOP nominees for lieutenant governor, Winsome Sears, and attorney general, Jason Miyares, are the headliners for the Saturday night banquet.
The itinerary for the 5th District Republicans’ rally, which was not organized or being run by the Youngkin campaign, does not indicate it will be an event highlighting conspiracies about the 2020 election. It appears to be more of a grassroots event for the party’s faithful, with breakout sessions focused on voter registration, outreach like phone banking and door-knocking, organizing and election monitoring, for which there is a legal process to do.
In response to a request for comment, Melvin Adams, the chairman of the 5th District Republicans, told ABC News the party is “not surprised by these tactics.”
“They know this is a close race and that our event to thank, inspire, equip, and empower our ‘grassroots’ volunteers, while also helping them know how they can help to secure the integrity of our local elections, will cause an unprecedented Republican turnout in this very RED region of Virginia,” Adams said. “That is why they are attempting to cause distraction.”
Election integrity has become the rallying cry of the Republican Party following the 2020 presidential election, which former President Donald Trump continues to falsely claim was “rigged,” despite no real evidence to support the baseless accusation of widespread fraud in battleground states Trump legitimately lost. Republican-led state legislatures, including Georgia, Florida and Arizona, have passed new “election integrity” laws, some of which amount to sweeping rewrites of election code.
The lawmakers justify these changes by asserting voters have lost faith in the system and are demanding changes — though few in the party openly acknowledge the source of that diminished confidence among voters, Republican voters specifically.
Youngkin, who earned Trump’s endorsement after securing the nomination, has not personally repeated the same lies about the election being “stolen,” but the issue of election integrity has been central to his campaign.
Before the party convention in May, the only major plan Youngkin released was one in February about this, also creating an “election integrity task force.” The five-prong plan calls for creating a “politically independent and transparent” Department of Elections, monthly updates to voter rolls, stricter voter identification requirements, verification of mail ballot applications and returns to ensure they are “legitimate and timely,” and requiring ballot counting observers and an audit of voting machines.
McAuliffe, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s predecessor who’s vying for his old job, blasted the rally as being “inspired by Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory that led to a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.”
“Glenn – enough is enough. I call on you to immediately withdraw from this ‘election integrity’ rally and disavow this dangerous, deadly conspiracy theory once and for all. Virginians deserve a leader who will tell the truth, act with integrity, and respect the office they seek to hold,” McAuliffe said in a statement Tuesday. “Glenn has shown, yet again, that he is no such leader. … If Glenn has any respect for the truth or Virginians, he will drop out of this event immediately.”
In response, Youngkin spokesperson Matt Wolking said in a statement, “Terry McAuliffe opposes requiring a photo ID to vote, which undermines the integrity of our elections and makes it easier to cheat. Glenn Youngkin will restore Virginia’s photo ID law and make sure it is easy for every eligible person to vote and harder to cheat.”
In Virginia, current law requires voters present a form of identification, but photo ID specifically is not required. There is broad support among the public for requiring voters to present a photo ID to cast ballots. In late June, a Monmouth University poll found that 80% of Americans support this, including about 60% of Democrats.
McAuliffe also accused Youngkin of spending “months denying that Joe Biden was duly elected president.” Since winning the nomination, Youngkin has repeatedly said Biden was legitimately elected, according to a fact check done by the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact. However, the fact check also found that pre-nomination, multiple media outlets reported that Youngkin or his campaign either did not respond to questions about whether Biden was “legitimately elected” or declined to answer.
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