McAuliffe, Youngkin lawyer up in Virginia governor's race to challenge next week's election results

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Virginia’s Democratic and Republican parties are bulking up their legal teams and are prepared to litigate the governor’s election Tuesday in a likely photo-finish of an extremely tight race.

The state political parties and campaigns for Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe have enlisted heavyweight law firms to monitor the polls and election officials and to prepare for the type of courtroom showdowns that are increasingly a staple of U.S. elections.

According to one Virginia GOP official, the party’s Election Day voter integrity operation “is the biggest in state history.” 

The legal maneuvering is understandable because it is a neck-and-neck race and the contest is playing out amid new election laws. This is the first election since Virginia adopted new voting laws, including 45 days of no-excuse early voting, early voting on Sundays and prepaid postage for absentee ballots.

Lawsuits from both sides and their allies have been filed in anticipation of challenges to how soon ballots were delivered to voters, filled out, cast and later handled by election officials.

One such legal action was filed last Wednesday by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative organization representing election integrity activists in Fairfax County. The lawsuit claims that election officials in the county accepted hundreds of absentee and mail-in ballot requests that do not have the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number, as required under state law.

The lawsuit in Fairfax came weeks after the county board of supervisors asked Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, to waive the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots cast by mail.

Within days, the Democratic Party of Virginia filed a lawsuit arguing that local branches of the U.S. Postal Service did not process and deliver election-related material in time for more than 300,000 Virginians to receive their ballots to cast them by the deadline. 

The current legal action focuses on three heavily Democratic areas in Virginia — Albemarle, Portsmouth and James City — where Democrats say the delay is “significant” and particularly “egregious.”

“Thousands of absentee ballots currently sit at postal facilities throughout the commonwealth, unprocessed for weeks on end,” the lawsuit states.

In this case, the state Democratic Party is being represented by the Elias Law Group, a firm headed by longtime Democratic elections attorney and activist Marc Elias. Mr. Elias opened his law firm in late August when he left the powerful Washington law office of Perkins Coie after nearly three decades. He brought over 13 lawyers, including 10 partners, with him. 

Republicans found themselves blindsided during the 2020 presidential election cycle when legal teams headed up by Mr. Elias filed at least 32 lawsuits in 19 states over election laws. Some of the cases led to the change of election laws in key states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. 

Following the election, former President Donald Trump and his allies encouraged Republican-led state legislatures to perform audits of the 2020 races and pass new voter laws such as mandating voter photo ID and banning ballot harvesting. 

The GOP pushed forward and pumped up its voter integrity team on a national and state level for the next big fight — Virginia, where Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Youngkin are locked in a razor-close race.

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson said the state GOP has “a substantial legal presence” during this cycle around the commonwealth.

“We have an election integrity team of 11 full-time people. The chief of that team, he’s our statewide elections, integrity director. He is a lawyer that’s steeped in elections law,” Mr. Anderson told The Washington Times. 

“Besides this elections integrity team, we have assembled a fairly sizable team of attorneys who will in effect man a war room in a central location and be prepared to respond throughout the day to any irregularities reported at a given poll. And likewise, throughout the night during the counting,” he explained.

The Democratic Party of Virginia and the McAuliffe campaign refused to provide The Washington Times details of their in-house legal operation.

Mr. Youngkin, who called the 2020 election results “certifiably fair,” is ready for a legal fight if he and his campaign team think there are discrepancies, Mr. Anderson said.

“I think if there is even the faintest discernment that anything improper has occurred, that there are irregularities. I can tell you that Republicans are in a fighting mood,” he said. “The Youngkin Team said they expect this is going to be a fair election, but if they discern that it’s not, they’re not going to roll over and play dead if they discern any wrongdoing is taking place.”

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