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Youngkin, McAuliffe spar over election audits

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McAuliffe and Youngkin

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, left, and his Republican rival, Glenn Youngkin, are hitting on national political themes in their race. 

After calling for an audit of voting machines as part of his “election integrity” pitch, Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin now says he’s only expressing support for Virginia’s existing audit procedures.

Though Youngkin has tried to cast doubt on whether his opponent, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also supports those routine audits, it was McAuliffe himself who signed them into law in 2017 after they passed the General Assembly unanimously.

“Virginia law requires voting machine audits. Not a surprise McAuliffe opposes audits,” Youngkin said in a tweet linking to the law McAuliffe approved in the final year of his first term.

McAuliffe’s campaign, which has dismissed Youngkin’s calls for audits as a disqualifying nod to the baseless election conspiracy theories pushed by former President Donald Trump that led to the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol, said McAuliffe still supports the audit procedures he approved in the final year of his first term.

It was that law that led to a post-2020 audit that overwhelmingly verified President Joe Biden’s 10-point victory in Virginia. Despite some Republicans deriding that review as inadequate, Youngkin’s campaign said he feels it was appropriate and that similar audits can be trusted in the future.

That leaves both candidates saying they support continuing the audits Virginia law already requires, while nonetheless vigorously attacking each other over the issue.

It was Youngkin who pushed the topic to the forefront by heavily emphasizing the need to beef up election security while seeking the GOP nomination earlier this year. At the time, he was competing against Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, who has perpetuated baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Youngkin only began saying Biden was the legitimate winner after he had secured the Republican nomination.

On Thursday, Democrats said Youngkin is trying to have it both ways, embracing a Trumpian buzzword tied to the former president’s false claims about widespread voter fraud while saying he doesn’t believe fraud occurred in Virginia and doesn’t think the state needs more audits than it already has. Trump recently called attention to a story in The Hill about Youngkin re-upping his call for audits, a move widely interpreted as a show of approval from the former president.

“Glenn Youngkin has based his entire campaign on peddling Donald Trump’s election conspiracy theories,” said McAuliffe spokesman Renzo Olivari. “Donald Trump knows Glenn will bring their dangerous agenda to Virginia, which is why last night he proudly endorsed Glenn again.”

The McAuliffe campaign released a new digital ad this week highlighting Youngkin’s renewed call for audits and connecting it to Trump’s “conspiracy theories” about voting machines and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Prior to 2020, election audits were more of a niche bureaucratic issue than the polarizing, hot-button topic they are today.

The little-noticed 2017 audit bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-26th, of Rockingham, passed without a single opposing vote and dealt only with risk-limiting audits, which involve looking at a small sample of ballots to check for statistical anomalies rather than an exhaustive review of millions of ballots to try to detect signs of fraud. A $6 million, Republican-led election audit in Arizona found that Biden won the state by more votes than initially thought.

During the General Assembly’s special session on pandemic relief spending this summer, small groups of conservative protesters gathered outside the Capitol in Richmond to demand a “forensic” election audit.

Though Chase signaled her sympathies for the crowd, no Republican legislators filed any audit-related proposals.

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