Daily Press (Sunday)

Blocked from the ballot

Errant voter purges cast doubts on Youngkin’s leadership on elections


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.

 ?? CLIFF OWEN/AP ?? Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin departs the Loudoun County elections facility at the County Office of Elections, in Leesburg in September 2022. Youngkin inspected ballot-scanning machines undergoing logic and accuracy testing.
CLIFF OWEN/AP Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin departs the Loudoun County elections facility at the County Office of Elections, in Leesburg in September 2022. Youngkin inspected ballot-scanning machines undergoing logic and accuracy testing.

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