Youngkin administration illegally purged over 3,000 voters ahead of election

Youngkin administration illegally purged over 3,000 voters ahead of election

(AP photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

By Carolyn Fiddler

October 31, 2023

In early October, media investigations revealed that an unknown number of Virginians were illegally removed from voter rolls by the Virginia Department of Elections (DOE). A month later, it’s becoming clear that the scope of this unconstitutional voter disenfranchisement numbers well into the thousands.

A September report released by Youngkin’s DOE announced that the department had removed over 17,000 people from state voter rolls over the past year who had previously had their voting rights restored but had been convicted of a new felony. The DOE – run by Youngkin appointee and longtime Republican political operative Susan Beals – said that these removals were the result of a newly “automated” process.

But it quickly became apparent that many of these voters had their registrations revoked illegally. An unknown number of these 17,000 Virginians had not, in fact, committed new crimes; rather, they’d lost their right to vote because they’d been flagged for technical probation infractions – an illegal violation of their fundamental right to cast a ballot.

A spokesperson for Youngkin’s DOE admitted that an unknown number of voter registrations had been “canceled in error.”

At first, 270 voters were revealed to have lost their right to vote because of the DOE’s “error.”

But just three weeks later, we know that the actual number of unconstitutionally disenfranchised Virginians is more than 10 times that. 

Youngkin’s DOE announced this week that it has restored the voting rights of almost 3,400 Virginians his administration illegally removed.

But with just days remaining before November’s election determines whether Youngkin’s Republican Party wins control of the legislature, this issue may be far from resolved. 

“We have no way to know if that 3,400 is actually correct,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia policy strategist Shawn Weneta.

Further, since the DOE’s illegal actions weren’t discovered until after early voting in Virginia’s elections was already underway, “it’s an equity issue,” Weneta continued.

“These people have been deprived of 30 to 35 days of their opportunity to vote.”

Virginia Democrats say that the inconsistencies in the DOE’s accounting of its error indicate Youngkin’s “weaponized incompetence.”

“First they said it was not a problem at all. Then they said it was a small, very contained problem. And now we’ve learned it’s a massive problem. I think it goes to the point that this administration can’t be trusted with the voting rights of Virginians,” said Democratic Party of Virginia voter protection director Aaron Mukerjee.

Upon learning of the increasing magnitude of this error by Youngkin’s DOE, Democrats in Virginia’s congressional delegation are renewing their call for a federal investigation into this widespread disenfranchisement.

In a follow-up letter sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Reps. Bobby Scott (VA-03), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Don Beyer (VA-08), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), and Jennifer McClellan (VA-04) demanded that the US Department of Justice “take immediate action to investigate how these removals happened and what is being done to ensure that those whose names were illegally removed from the voting rolls are informed in a timely and effective manner so that they are able to cast a vote in the November 7, 2023, Virginia election.”

The letter reiterates their request that the DOJ determine “if the Virginia Department of Elections had violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act or other federal laws.”

Youngkin has asked Virginia’s inspector general to investigate the removals.

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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