Daily Press (Sunday)

Youngkin being sued by Va. NAACP over records

Group seeks public records on voting rights restoratio­n

- By Denise Lavoie and Ben Finley

RICHMOND — The Virginia NAACP filed a lawsuit Friday alleging Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administra­tion failed to turn over public records to explain how it decides whether to restore the voting rights of convicted felons who have completed their sentences.

Youngkin has come under scrutiny since his administra­tion confirmed earlier this year that it has shifted away from a restoratio­n-ofrights system used by three of his predecesso­rs that was partly automatic.

In July the NAACP called on the administra­tion to establish clear and publicly available criteria, saying the current system is secretive and could discrimina­te against people of color.

“This governor has chosen to take Virginia back over 100 years ago to a racist history where felony disenfranc­hisement was used explicitly to disenfranc­hise Black Virginians,” said Ryan Snow, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representi­ng the NAACP in this case.

“We know that felony disenfranc­hisement is a severely racially discrimina­tory policy, just on its face.”

In the lawsuit filed in Richmond Circuit Court the NAACP said the Youngkin administra­tion turned over about 600 documents. But the lawsuit identified additional documents it believes are not exempt from the

Virginia Freedom of Informatio­n Act and should be made public.

They include an administra­tion transition document that has informatio­n about the restoratio­n-of-rights process, documents containing informatio­n about applicants whose restoratio­n-of-rights applicatio­ns were denied and records showing the numbers of applicants and denials.

“Virginians of all stripes deserve to know as much as possible about the rights restoratio­n process, including who is in the room, what informatio­n is considered, and the criteria used to make decisions, ” NAACP Virginia State Conference President Robert N. Barnette, Jr. said in a news release.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed over Youngkin’s process, which critics have said is confusing and does not have clear standards on when an applicatio­n should be granted or denied.

The Washington-based Fair Elections Center alleges in its lawsuit that the process being used by Youngkin is unconstitu­tional and could lead to decisions based on an applicant’s political affiliatio­ns or views.

A second lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia alleges the state is violating a Reconstruc­tion-era federal law.

A felony conviction in Virginia automatica­lly results in the loss of certain civil rights such as voting, running for office, serving on a jury or carrying a firearm.

The governor has the sole discretion to restore those rights — with the exception of firearms rights, which only a court can do.

In July the NAACP said documents it had obtained through public records requests “reveal a lack of clear standards and timelines” that creates a confusing system “rife with opportunit­y for discrimina­tory impact on Black Virginians and other Virginians of color.”

Former Secretary of the Commonweal­th Kay Coles James, whose office oversees restoratio­ns, strongly denied those allegation­s in a letter she sent to the NAACP in July. James wrote that there is no reference in the applicatio­n process to “race, religion, or ethnicity.”

“Governor Youngkin and I both guarantee that these factors play absolutely no role in the process or the serious decisions that we make on behalf of returning citizens,” James wrote.

James said Youngkin is “less likely to quickly restore the voting rights of anyone who used a firearm in the commission of a crime.” She also wrote that Youngkin will also “generally speaking, but not always” work to restore the voting rights of those who committed nonviolent crimes.

The lawsuit names Youngkin and Kelly Gee, the current secretary of the Commonweal­th, as defendants. Macaulay Porter, Youngkin’s spokeswoma­n, said Friday that the governor’s office underwent an extensive process in good faith to fulfill the NAACP’s requests.

“As the lawsuit admits, we engaged in a multi-month process with the NAACP with multiple meetings and discussion­s that culminated in the production of nearly 600 pages of records, some of which the governor was not required to produce under FOIA laws,” Porter said

She added that Youngkin “firmly believes in the importance of second chances for Virginians who have made mistakes but are working to move forward as active members of our citizenry.”

 ?? STEPHANIE SCARBROUGH/AP FILE ?? The Virginia NAACP has filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administra­tion failed to turn over public records.
STEPHANIE SCARBROUGH/AP FILE The Virginia NAACP has filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administra­tion failed to turn over public records.

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