With just over a month until Election Day, more than just abortion is on the ballot this November.
In July, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin unveiled a new initiative – “Secure Your Vote Virginia” – in an effort to provide an accessible platform to educate Virginia residents on their voting options for the upcoming Virginia elections this November. The portal’s features allow Virginians to sign up on the permanent absentee voting list to receive a ballot with every new election cycle. Additionally, voters can sign up to receive more information on where and when to vote early. Created by The Republican Party of Virginia, “Secure Your Vote Virginia” is a partnership between the Virginia House Republican Caucus, the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, the Republican State Leadership Committee, and the Spirit of Virginia PAC, demonstrating a coordinated effort amongst the GOP to champion elections going forward.
Currently, the Virginia House of Delegates sits with a 52-48 Republican majority, and all 100 seats are up for grabs this fall. The 40 seats in the State Senate also are up for reelection, and Virginia Democrats are hoping to maintain their 22-18 majority. Youngkin and the Virginia Republican Party are reliant on pushing early voting to flip the State Senate and maintain the House in order to cement a GOP win in November.
Democrats tend to push early voting more than Republicans, and on election night, their efforts are not in vain; while turnout from the GOP generally exceeds Democrats, early ballots have more times than not pushed them over the finish line in many neck-in-neck races to secure a blue win. Many GOP voters prefer voting in-person on Election Day; however, Governor Youngkin has stressed the importance of securing your vote in the 45 days allotted for early voting prior to Election Day on November 7th:
“In Virginia, you do not need a reason or an excuse to vote early or by absentee ballot,” he wrote in an op-ed published by USA Today in August. “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. We can either continue complaining, or we can recognize reality, beat the left at their own game, and win elections.”
However, Youngkin and other GOP names are facing an uphill battle with their efforts, as many voters, concerned about the susceptibility of fraud and swayed by the influence of Donald Trump, are skeptical of performing their civic duty in advance. The push to vote early is a significant shift in rhetoric from the Republican Party.
The former president’s tone appears to have shifted, urging attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March that “Republicans must compete using every lawful means to win. That means swamping the left with mail-in votes, early votes, and Election Day votes.”
However, Trump still harbors some hesitancy over the process of absentee and early voting. Speaking to Sean Hannity this past summer, he voiced concern when asked if he would support early voting. “I will, but those ballots get lost also, Sean,” Trump relayed. “You know, they send them in, and all of a sudden, they’re gone.”
With 63% of the GOP electorate still supporting Trump in a presidential primary, this type of mixed messaging makes promoting national early-voting efforts more difficult. The former president still has enormous backing from voters, and many of his concerns directly translate to how his supporters will plan to vote in upcoming elections.
“You can either continue with the Trump angle of early and mail voting provides the potential for fraud, or you can risk angering Trump’s supporters who are all-in on the fraud angle,” said Dr. Chapman Rackaway, a professor and Chair of Political Science at Radford University.
The Republican Party must overcome the stigma that has long been associated with absentee and early voting within the party if they want to beat the Democrats at the game they have learned to play quite well.
However, data coming from the Virginia Public Access Project’s Early Voting Dashboard could bode well for Youngkin if Republicans are turning out to the polls. As of this time last year (October 1, 2022), early votes in Virginia had amounted to 73,993 in total between in-person and mail-in. Looking at the data for this election cycle, as of October 1, 2023, 79,165 early votes have been cast.
With abortion among the various issues on the line in the 2024 General Assembly session, Virginia voters are more tuned in than ever before. President Joe Biden also understands what is at stake in the Commonwealth. In September, the President directed the Democratic National Committee to invest $1.2 million into Virginia’s legislative races, bumping up the total investment to $1.5 million to counter Governor Youngkin’s sweeping efforts across the state.
Election night will be telling for the Republican Party. If turnout continues to be on the track it is now and the GOP can convince their base to play the early voting game, and to play it well, the Democrats may earn themselves a worthy competitor in future election cycles.
The opinions expressed within this piece represent the views of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jefferson Independent.