RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The Virginia NAACP is preparing to sue Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to get more records on the state’s new voting rights restoration process it claims his office illegally withheld.
Virginia’s chapter of the NAACP sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Youngkin’s office in May, seeking records on the restoration process — which the governor quietly rolled back to end the longstanding practice of automatically restoring the voting rights of Virginians with felonies.
After reviewing nearly 600 documents shared by the governor’s office, the Virginia NAACP says it identified more records that were not provided but should have been. The Virginia NAACP claims the additional documents contain key details on the new restoration policy, including records on the voting rights restoration applications that have been denied under Youngkin.
The Virginia NAACP announced Tuesday that it informed Youngkin’s administration of its intent to file a lawsuit to get the records, claiming the documents are not exempt from being disclosed publicly under the law and that four separate attempts to get the records did not get a response.
“We bring this lawsuit to continue to shine a light on the Governor’s process for restoration of rights, which disproportionately disenfranchises Black Virginians,” Robert Barnette Jr., president of the NAACP Virginia State Conference, said in a statement.
“After multiple requests to the Youngkin administration fell on deaf ears, we must now look to the court system to affirm our rights and the rights of all Virginians to know what is being done behind closed doors,” Barnette continued.
Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin, said in a statement that the governor’s office made “a good faith effort to work with the NAACP” to fulfill its requests, claiming that not all of the records shared with the chapter were required under the state’s FOIA laws.
“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.
People with felony convictions seeking to have their rights to vote, run for office and serve on a jury restored are now required to file an application given to them once they are released. They are all “considered individually,” then-Secretary of the Commonwealth Kay Coles James wrote in a March 22 letter to state Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake).
The Youngkin administration’s change is a shift from a policy change implemented by Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) to automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of certain nonviolent felonies who meet specific requirements.
In Virginia, people lose their right to vote, run for office and other civil rights when convicted of a felony and must petition the governor to regain them. People need to petition the courts to restore their firearms rights.
Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell expedited the restoration process for those convicted of certain nonviolent felonies who have met certain qualifications after serving out their sentences by making the restoration automatic.
In 2021, then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) removed the requirement that Virginians with felony convictions have to finish being under community supervision — parole or probation — before having their voting rights restored.
The Virginia NAACP says it filed its FOIA request to get information on the Youngkin administration’s criteria for restoring people’s voting rights and over concerns about the “slow pace” of the new process, pointing to how it could impact the ongoing Nov. 7 elections.
Ryan Snow, a lawyer with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement that Youngkin’s office’s refusal to share the additional documents “is not only unlawful, but also demonstrates that the Governor does not want the details of his arbitrary and slow restoration of rights process to be made public.”
The lawsuit, slated to be filed in Richmond Circuit Court on Friday, must get a hearing within seven days. Another lawsuit over Youngkin’s rights restoration process — one in federal court — was allowed to move forward.