The Virginian-Pilot: Editorial: Errant voter purges cast doubt on Youngkin’s leadership on elections
October 14, 2023 | The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press Editorial Board
Monday marks the last day for eligible Virginians to register to vote in November’s election, though everyone would do well to check the status of their registration at the Department of Elections website, elections.virginia.gov.
Officials at the Virginia Department of Elections admitted this month that an untold number of eligible voters were incorrectly removed from the voter rolls, a mistake they claim to be working to resolve. This follows the Youngkin administration’s bow to conspiracy theorists in withdrawing from a bipartisan multistate program that keeps voting rolls updated.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin made a lot of noise during his campaign stressing “election integrity,” an echo of former President Donald Trump’s lies about the fairly adjudicated 2020 election. Yet his administration has cast a shadow over this year’s legislative vote rather than inspire confidence in its process and outcomes.
The very serious allegations that eligible Virginians were purged from the commonwealth’s voter rolls deserves prompt and unambiguous answers from the Youngkin administration. Tenacious reporting by Virginia Public Media first put a spotlight on the issue, leading to the admission by state elections officials that an unknown number of people had incorrectly had their voting rights revoked.
That term, revoked, is the proper one because those affected are people with felony convictions who previously had their rights restored. Virginia is inexplicably the only state in the nation where a felony conviction results in the loss of voting rights; those rights can be regained only with the governor’s approval upon completion of a sentence and an application for restoration.
In this case, the Virginia State Police said it “marks probation violations in prior felony convictions as felonies in the state records keeping system used by elections officials.” Subsequent felony convictions would trigger a loss of voting rights, but probation violations aren’t felonies and do not involve a judicial verdict. But the Department of Elections removed 10,558 from the voting rolls, an untold number of whom were disqualified as a result of what is essentially a bookkeeping error.
Though the issue was first identified by would-be eligible voters trying to cast ballots in the June primary, it wasn’t until VPM and voting rights organizations pressed the administration for answers that elections officials owned up to the mistake.
Now they say they are working to fix the problem, even though early voting began in September and the clock is ticking toward Nov. 7. It’s little surprise that Youngkin’s office even initially swiped at former Gov. Ralph Northam’s approach to rights restoration rather than take ownership of a problem happening under their watch.
Youngkin says he believes in second chances, but his record on restoring to full citizenship those Virginians who have served their punishment says otherwise. Whereas Northam restored the rights of 32,398 people between 2020-21, Youngkin has done the same for just 2,667 people between Sept. 1, 2022, and Aug. 16, the most recent data available.
Again, the governor can label these people whatever he wants — his office makes a point of separating “violent” criminals from other criminals — but these individuals served their time, earned their release and want to re-engage in society. Their return to full citizenship should not depend on the whims of this or any governor.
Virginians shouldn’t forget that this error comes on the heels of a decision to withdraw the commonwealth from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a bipartisan program that helps states maintain accurate voter rolls. Virginia helped found ERIC under Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell, but the coalition was a target of baseless conspiracy theories advanced by Trump and his allies after the 2020 election.
Virginia may not face the type of grave threats to our elections as in other states, but the Youngkin administration’s record on election integrity, one of the governor’s signature campaign issues, has been a ham-handed mess. It’s compromised the participation of eligible voters and undermined trust in the election system.
Then again, maybe that’s the point.