In this month’s election, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s 17-year-old son tried to cast a ballot not once, but twice, despite being too young to vote, according to Fairfax County officials.
His failure to cast a ballot not only reinforced the security and integrity of Virginia elections but appears to have contributed to Fairfax officials’ decision not to refer his conduct to local prosecutors. Fairfax officials should reconsider this decision.
When one of our two major parties (Youngkin’s, as it happens) has spent the better part of a year questioning the integrity of our elections and election officials, the failure to refer the matter could further threaten the public perception of election integrity. The public needs to see that such matters are thoroughly reviewed before being dismissed.
Scott Konopasek, the head of Fairfax’s elections office, is probably correct when he says that Youngkin’s son committed no election offense as defined in the Virginia code, but he may still have violated Virginia law.
Earlier this year, Jonathan Meade West Sr. of Gloucester County was convicted of a misdemeanor of obtaining services under false pretense after trying to vote twice in the 2020 presidential election. West was sentenced to a suspended term of 12 months, fined $500, and ordered to pay $96 in court costs. Although the election offenses in the code appear to require an actual ballot to be cast, the portion of the code that West violated, and could hold Youngkin’s son accountable, has no such constraints.
Perhaps Youngkin’s son misunderstood Virginia’s election laws; when I served as Richmond’s deputy general registrar from 2012-2014, I witnessed many instances of voters misinterpreting state election laws.
But what warrants prosecutorial consideration is that Youngkin’s son returned to the same precinct soon after being told by poll workers that he was too young and allegedly insisted that he be allowed to vote because he heard that a friend who was also 17 had been allowed to cast a ballot. It is well established in Virginia that you must be at least 18 to vote in general elections.
The other important reason not to let this drop is to ensure that similar efforts do not proliferate, casting further doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections. If the teen had been successful in voting, the brunt of the blame would have fallen on Fairfax election officials. Election workers are responsible for ensuring that voting in Fairfax complies with all federal, state and local laws.
Additionally, his actions should not be viewed in a vacuum. Shortly before and during the vote, former President Donald Trump tried to cast doubt on the election’s integrity, in part by casting false aspersions on Fairfax’s conduct of the election. And throughout the gubernatorial campaign, Youngkin made statements about the elections process that seemed designed to cast doubt on it, rather than bolster the public’s faith. For example, Youngkin repeatedly called for audits of Virginia’s voting equipment, even though the state already conducts such audits on a regular basis.
In short, had Youngkin’s son been able to vote, that could have helped validate the baseless allegations made by prominent figures that the administration of the gubernatorial election in Fairfax, and Virginia more broadly, was suspect.
A referral to the local prosecutor’s office may not result in a criminal prosecution, but it will send a broader message: No one who is thinking about violating election laws and undermining the integrity of our elections is above the law.
David Levine is an elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, part of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank.