RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — During a lengthy presentation to lawmakers, Elections Commissioner Susan Beals explained why thousands of felons remained on Virginia’s voter rolls despite losing their right to cast a ballot under state law.
The glitch is just the latest symptom of rigid, outdated technology that’s now being overhauled, Beals told House and Senate Privileges and Elections Committees on Monday. Beals also explained how the Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) plans to prevent additional problems during the two-year transition to a new voter registration system.
Beals said 1,248 felons who are not eligible to vote have cast a ballot since 2011. She said they’re part of a group of 10,558 offenders who had their rights restored by the Governor upon release, then had their rights revoked once again after being convicted of another offense.
Beals said programming for the rights restoration system was inflexible from the start. She said it didn’t allow people taken off of the prohibited list to be added back on later.
“Unfortunately, the way the code was written, you could not unexpire somebody if they came back in and reoffended. So once you were restored, you were always going to be restored,” Beals said.
Beals said they’ve now created an automated solution for fixing the records and sent the updated information to local registrars.
“Already our registrars have gotten through half of them. So I believe that they will be finished by the end of this week having them canceled and off the rolls,” Beals said.
Beals said the problem was identified during a review of list maintenance processes and procedures. She said this audit will help facilitate a smooth transition to a new statewide voter registration system as the state prepares to replace outdated technology that was installed 15 years ago.
“We are past time for a new system that brings in new technology and new features and new functionality,” Beals said. “In 2007, we didn’t have iPhones. Most of us were using BlackBerries and Game Boys were also a thing. So that gives you an idea of the technology we’re talking about.”
Beals said they recently awarded a contract for the project. She said their goal is for the new system to go live in February 2025.
Lawmakers pressed Beals about how the state plans to prevent additional problems in the meantime after the existing system was blamed for multiple glitches leading up to this fall’s election. Local registrars were left scrambling at the last minute multiple times after the state failed to transfer updated voter records from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Beals said they’re planning to implement a new monitoring and alert system that will flag problems faster.
“We don’t have that monitoring or those alerts in place. We need to have real-time information that something is going wrong as soon as it is going wrong. The monitoring is going to be a critical element that is going to help us get through the next two years,” Beals said.
Beals said the alert system was put on the back burner during previous administrations but they’re prioritizing the project for the first quarter of 2023.
Beals declined to do an interview on Monday after the meeting.
Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who has been critical of recent errors under Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration, said in an interview after the presentation that Beals appears to
“have her arms around” long-standing problems. He believes staff turnover and a loss of institutional knowledge between administrations contributed to previous glitches.
“I think she has learned a lot and the job is very difficult,” Sickles said. “It’s understandable that things can slip through the cracks and I think that is what happened this time.”