Oct 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Virginia Dems call for probe into expulsions from voting rolls

Virginia Gov Glenn Youngkin in a blue suite with a white shirt and green tie.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) addresses the Economic Club of Washington's luncheon in September. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is under fire from Democrats who are calling for a federal investigation into why an unknown number of people have been wrongly removed from the state's voter rolls because they were mistakenly listed as felons.

  • "There must be an immediate investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into how this happened in the run-up to a very consequential election next month," Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) told Axios.

Why it matters: Virginia voters will go to the polls on Nov. 7 to determine whether Youngkin will succeed in his push for Republicans to win control of both chambers of the state's legislature.

Driving the news: As first reported by VPM, Youngkin's administration recently acknowledged it had incorrectly classified the voting status of some residents with felony convictions. Felons aren't allowed to vote in Virginia unless the governor approves.

  • Shawn Weneta, policy strategist at American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said Youngkin's team has failed to address concerns expressed as early as June about voters being wrongly disenfranchised.
  • "If they don't have this fixed tomorrow, there are going to be people that are showing up to vote who are not going to be registered, and are going to vote with a provisional ballot that might not get counted," Wenta told Axios.
  • Early voting is underway in Virginia for next month’s election; the deadline to be registered to vote in the election is Oct. 16.

Zoom in: Virginia is the only state in the country where a person convicted of any felony automatically loses their right to vote — something Democrats in the state legislature are working to change.

  • Voting rights activists are suing Youngkin for slowing down the process in which former felons' voting rights may be restored — and lacking transparency in that process.
  • After taking office last year, Youngkin implemented a policy requiring each person with a felony conviction to file an application to have their voting rights restored on a case-by-base basis.
  • Critics — noting that studies have indicated that felons who vote typically favor Democrats — have cast Youngkin's restrictions as an effort to suppress Democratic votes.
  • Kay Coles James, Virginia's secretary of the commonwealth, says that "Virginians trust the governor and his administration to consider each person individually, and take into consideration the unique elements of each situation."

Between the lines: A representative from Youngkin's administration said Virginia State Police gave the state's Department of Elections incorrect information that listed some residents as felons felonies when they actually just had probation violations.

  • "The Department of Elections has asked the Virginia State Police to do analysis of their data and identify individuals who may have been canceled in error," Andrea M. Gaines, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Elections, told Axios.
  • The elections department plans to send those names to elections registrars to have those voters' registrations reinstated as soon as possible, Gaines said.

What they're saying: Democrats and voting rights activists said Youngkin's administration has a pattern of putting the voting rights of some residents in jeopardy.

  • "For the second year in a row, the Virginia Department of Elections has screwed up voting information," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). "This has got to be fixed."
  • "These admissions from the Youngkin administration are extremely concerning and must be rectified immediately," Scott said.
  • "We have never been able to get a response to just how many people are impacted and how are we going to let those people know," Wenta said. "There is an urgency to this because of the state of this election and the thousands of people this could impact."
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