Oct 31, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Virginia restores 3,400 to voting rolls, but questions remain

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at an event.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the Economic Club of Washington's luncheon on Sept. 26. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has restored the voting rights of nearly 3,400 residents who were wrongly taken off the state's voting rolls, but Democrats and civil rights groups are still demanding answers about the voting purge.

Driving the news: The voters who were "canceled in error" were felons who'd violated probation but were misclassified as having committed new felonies, the Richmond Times-Dispatch first reported.

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.

  • Youngkin is planning a broad conservative agenda if the GOP takes over the legislature — including a push to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions.
  • Besides testing Youngkin's call for abortion limits in the politically divided state, the election also is seen as a test of the governor's viability as a candidate for national office.

Zoom in: Democrats, civil rights activists and others continue to wonder whether the removal of thousands of people with felonies, a group that typically favors Democrats, was an effort to suppress Democratic votes

  • "We're already 30 to 35 days into early voting, so it's an equity issue," Shawn Weneta, a policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, told Axios.
  • "These people have been deprived of 30 to 35 days of their opportunity to vote."
  • Virginia's Department of Elections "continues to monitor the situation daily at the locality level to ensure that all affected voters are reinstated," spokeswoman Andrea Gaines said.

Yes, but: Weneta said the ACLU of Virginia is concerned that even more residents are affected than has been reported.

  • "We have no way to know if that 3,400 is actually correct," Weneta said. "When they acknowledged the mistake, they said it was only 270 people. Well three weeks later, they say it's more than 10 times that number."

The big picture: Virginia is the only state where a person convicted of any felony automatically loses the right to vote. After he was elected, Youngkin implemented a policy requiring each person with a felony to file an application to have their voting rights restored.

  • Virginia's NAACP filed a lawsuit this month accusing the Youngkin administration of failing to turn over public records explaining how it decides when to restore the voting rights of convicted felons.
  • And Virginia Democrats in Congress have called on the Justice Department to investigate how thousands of residents lost their voting rights after being wrongly accused of violating probation.
  • "These new reports are alarming, especially with a consequential election already underway in Virginia," wrote Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner joined by the rest of the state's Democratic delegation.

Between the lines: Critics of Youngkin still have questions about how the voter purge happened and what they call a lack of communication from the governor's office.

  • Weneta said Youngkin's administration hasn't responded to multiple letters sent by voting rights advocates about how the purge happened.
  • "The administration is still refusing to be transparent about how the error happened in the first place and how they're going to fix it," he said. "Instead they've tried to divert responsibility off to local registrars and even tried to blame other previous administrations for the problem."

What they're saying: A congressional aide told Axios that Virginia Democrats are planning to send a follow-up letter this week to the Justice Department to get an update on its investigation.

  • "These people deserve an apology," Weneta said. "Nobody has done anything to apologize or try to be accountable for what happened."
Go deeper