Opinion: Virginia's democracy needs Youngkin's principled leadership – The Virginian-Pilot
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Congratulations, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin; now, it’s time to get down to business.
As a fellow Republican, Harvard Business School alum and Virginia businessperson, I want to encourage you to prioritize a strong democracy and principled leadership for our commonwealth. As we both know, a well-functioning democracy is essential to a thriving economy.
Specifically, I suggest we:
Virginia has jumped from one of the most difficult states to vote in to one of the best-ranking on the Cost of Voting Index. Voting in Virginia is easier and more secure than ever, with numerous options available for citizens to exercise their right to vote across our commonwealth. We’ve seen this in practice: A record number of Virginians voted early, by mail or day-of in this election.
This is an incredible accomplishment. However, our democracy and citizens’ trust in it are fundamentally at risk. Increasingly, Americans express concern that future elections will be “rigged,” exposing a deep lingering distrust of our system. And given the recent trend of voting restrictions passed at the state-level, this false narrative isn’t subsiding. We even saw this in your own election cycle — some high-profile individuals publicly sowed doubt about Virginia’s elections, including former President Donald Trump. We must reject the false dichotomy that election security and accessibility are at odds — our elections, like ATMs, can be secure and accessible.
These false claims exacerbate the current hyper-political environment, further eroding trust both in government and in one another. Disinformation about our electoral system only seeks to continue dividing us. On election night you mentioned the great Virginians who “gifted us a commonwealth and a nation built on faith in democracy.” And that faith is based on a collective acceptance of electoral victory and defeat — something the Founders understood personally.
Legislators and voters must freely discuss the merits of policies, but we must also ensure our foundational democratic institutions are not undermined by disinformation. I hope you will set aside your calls for audits of Virginia’s election machines and disavow the false claims of so-called “election integrity” rallies. There’s no material evidence the 2020 elections or any others weren’t safe and secure.
A recent study by my firm CollaborateUp found that “misinformation and disinformation can cause suffering, economic loss, and even death.” Our research also showed putting forward correct information before misinformation spreads — rather than fact-checking afterwards — is the most effective way to combat misinformation. This starts with effective media literacy education backed by political leaders such as you sharing correct information and actively discouraging the sharing of false or unverified information, especially on social media platforms.
Business leaders, in Virginia and across the country, need a strong, trusted democracy that values facts and evidence. The Leadership Now Project, a coalition of business leaders committed to improving American democracy to which I belong, has long argued that our democracy and our economy are inextricably intertwined. History tells us that eroding democratic norms creates an economic risk and that long-term economic stability depends on the rule of law. Simply put, a strong democracy is the foundation of America’s economic dynamism and our shared prosperity.
Protecting and strengthening our democracy, and thus our economy, requires bold leadership and I hope, as HBS alumni, we will both embody the boldness and leadership Virginia needs.
Richard Crespin is the CEO of CollaborateUp, a firm advising businesses, governments, and non-profits on how to work together to solve big problems. He is a member of the Leadership Now Project, an organization of business leaders mobilizing to strengthen American democracy, and an alumnus of George Washington University and Harvard Business School.