RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Democrats in Congress again asked for a federal investigation into how voters were taken off the state’s rolls in error, renewing their push after Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s elections office revealed the total was more than 10 times its initial estimate.
Virginia’s Department of Elections said people were wrongly removed from voter rolls after their probation violations were misclassified as new felony convictions. The department initially said it identified about 270 voters impacted by the error, a figure that it later said reached nearly 3,400.
The department said on Oct. 27 that all but about 100 eligible voters impacted have had their rights restored.
Every Virginia Democrat in Congress – two senators and six House members – sent an Oct. 6 letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for an investigation into the voter removals, urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to look into possible Voting Rights Act violations.
In a follow-up letter Monday, the lawmakers again urged Garland to open an investigation, pointing to the discrepancy and timing of the disclosure less than two weeks from Virginia’s high-stakes elections where control of the General Assembly will be decided.
“Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Elections (the Department) first announced that it had improperly removed about 270 voters whose rights were restored after felony convictions,” the lawmakers wrote.
“News reports from late last week indicated that the Department had actually improperly removed 3,400 qualified voters. This is over 10 times more voters than initially announced, and the information comes less than two weeks before Election Day and more than a month after the start of early voting,” they continued in the Oct. 30 letter.
Virginians automatically lose their civil rights – such as the right to vote, run for office and serve on a jury – when convicted of a felony. Once that has happened, only the governor can restore their voting rights.
Virginia is the only state in the country with such a system, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Gov. Youngkin (R) ordered a state inspector general probe into the issue, made public after reporting from Virginia Public Media, that caused probation violations to be mistakenly listed as felony convictions on the database maintained by state police.
“As the Governor has consistently stated all eligible voters should be able to vote, and has requested a full investigation by the Inspector General into this matter,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement. “In these specific cases, these individuals who have previously been convicted of felonies have had their registration reinstated.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia questioned the new figure shared by the elections department, adding that more should be done to notify voters who were improperly removed from state rolls.
The Democratic lawmakers echoed those concerns in their letter to Garland, writing that it’s not clear that affected voters who had their rights restored and the about 100 who had not been reinstated as of Oct. 27 will be informed in time for the Nov. 7 elections.
The Democrats added that their concerns are further compounded by other issues and steps by the state’s Department of Elections under Youngkin, including Virginia’s withdrawal from a bipartisan multistate program that helps keep voter rolls updated and issues that stalled voter records from processing.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Elections did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request to interview Elections Commissioner Susan Beals. The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We reiterate our request that DOJ 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 Democratic congressional members wrote.