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Virginia Democrats call for federal inquiry into voter removals

VPM | By Ben Paviour

Diane Charles casts her ballot during the June 20 primaries at Woodville Elementary School in Richmond. Carlos Bernate/For VPM News

An elections department spokesperson said at least 275 voters have been affected by the error.

Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation are calling for a federal investigation into voter removals by the state department of elections.

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland late last week, both U.S. senators and six representatives said it’s possible the deletions violated federal law, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate “how these recent removals happened” and what the state is doing to ensure voters are informed they’re eligible to vote.

“These new reports are alarming, especially with a consequential election already underway in Virginia,” the letter said.

All 140 seats in Virginia’s General Assembly are on the ballot this fall, and early voting has already begun.

Virginia’s Constitution bars people convicted of felonies from voting, serving on juries and running for office unless the governor restores their rights.

The department of elections, which shortens to ELECT, announced in December it had made list maintenance changes to ensure people convicted of felonies after their rights were restored are removed from voter rolls. It identified 10,558 people who fit that description.

But as VPM News reported last month, some voters were removed after a probation violation such as missing a court date or failing to check in with a probation officer — not a new felony conviction.

Commissioner of Elections Susan Beals initially defended the removals, but department spokesperson Andrea Gaines acknowledged last week the voters were “canceled in error.”

In an email Tuesday, Gaines said the department had so far identified 275 people whose names had been provided to registrars for reinstatement to the rolls; 82% of localities had finished that process. She said ELECT is working with Virginia State Police to identify any additional people affected. Voters will get mailers from their local registrar informing them of the error. She also disputed Democrats’ characterization that voters had been removed without their knowledge.

“This is false,” Gaines said. “Anytime a voter’s registration is canceled for any reason, they are mailed a written notice from their local general registrar.”

One of the two people VPM News interviewed whose registration was canceled said he was never notified, while another said she received a letter from her registrar.

ELECT sent a memo to local election officials on Friday directing registrars to add the people back ASAP, but no later than Thursday, Oct. 12. It did not provide a reason for the deadline.

Richmond City Registrar Keith Balmer said in a statement Tuesday the department had successfully added back 19 voters affected by the accidental purge.

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the advocacy group New Virginia Majority, said the Youngkin administration hasn’t been forthcoming enough on how it would fix the problem.

“At this point, full transparency — including clear and concise guidance on how to handle these impacted voters and assurances that impacted voters will not be prosecuted — will go a long way in garnering public confidence,” Nguyen said.

Youngkin’s spokesperson, Macaulay Porter, said the governor acted quickly to address the mistake once he became aware of it.

“While analysis is still ongoing, we are aware of fewer than 300 voters who were impacted and those individuals are being reinstated,” Porter said. “The governor is committed to ensuring those that are eligible can vote.”

Youngkin restored nearly 2,700 people’s rights last year, roughly one-third the number he and his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam, restored the year before.

Representatives for the DOJ did not respond to a request for comment sent early Tuesday afternoon.


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