The Virginian-Pilot: Editorial: “Election integrity” undermined by Youngkin’s voter purge
October 31, 2023 | The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press Editorial Board
There were plenty of indications during the 2021 gubernatorial campaign that Glenn Youngkin wasn’t trustworthy on the issue of protecting election integrity. He advanced the false notion that the 2020 presidential election in Virginia wasn’t secure (it was) and indulged those who insisted Donald Trump had actually won the election (he didn’t).
Now the governor’s explanation as to why thousands of Virginians were removed from the voter rolls keeps changing. And while the administration says it’s fixed the problem, the delays and obfuscation threaten to undermine confidence in next week’s consequential legislative election.
No governor should put his thumb on the scales when it comes to Virginians’ voting rights, but Youngkin’s record on this issue — capped by this mistake — shows a willingness to do just that.
In September, Virginia Public Media first reported that some voters had trouble voting in June’s primary election. These individuals were convicted of felonies, but had served their time and regained their civil rights through Virginia’s unnecessarily cumbersome restoration process.
Those convicted of felonies in Virginia relinquish a host of civil rights, including the right to participate in elections. Restoring those rights requires an application approved by the governor, a holdover from the Jim Crow era; Virginia is one of the only states in the country that invests so much power in the executive.
A subsequent felony conviction would again trigger the loss of rights, but those removed from the rolls had only committed minor probation violations — misdemeanors at worst. Ultimately it was discovered that these probation violations were improperly classified as felonies and these citizens were incorrectly made ineligible to participate in Virginia elections.
Mistakes happen, and even children know that the best policy is to take responsibility for them when they do. Of course, that takes courage, which is apparently in short supply in the Governor’s Mansion.
After dismissing the issue as a problem, the administration then said only a handful of voters were affected, about 270. Then, on Friday, the governor’s office finally owned up to the fact that some 3,400 voters had been incorrectly purged from the voting rolls. The administration says all voters have been restored but directed further questions to the Department of Elections as the governor seeks to distance himself from such an egregious error.
Were this the only elections-related mishap on Youngkin’s watch, perhaps the public might give the governor the benefit of the doubt.
But the governor, while running for office, indulged supporters of Donald Trump’s “big lie” for as long as he could.
He bowed to loopy conspiracy theories and withdrew Virginia from a multistate program that verifies the accuracy of voter rolls, a program that Virginia helped found under the leadership of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnel.
And he has slow-walked the approval of rights restoration applications, blocking Virginians who paid their debt to society from enjoying the full bounty of citizenship simply because he’s calculated it’s politically advantageous.
But that’s, again, the point. For all his bluster about rekindling the spirit of Virginia, Youngkin doesn’t believe that spirit should be enjoyed by all. So under his watch, those seeking access to the ballot struggle to receive it, and those who should be eligible are stricken from the rolls.
Six years ago, the election to represent Virginia’s 94th House District ended in a tie. Of the 23,896 votes cast, precisely half went to Democrat Shelly Simonds and half to then-incumbent Republican Del. David Yancey.
When state elections officials pulled Yancey’s name from a bowl in a random draw, making him the winner, it also ensured that Republicans maintained a one-vote majority in the House of Delegates, affording them two years of control over legislative priorities in the lower chamber.
If that’s the value of a single vote, imagine how much power 3,400 votes could have in tight races across the commonwealth. Youngkin says he takes the issue of election integrity seriously, but his record tells an entirely different story.