Discover more from Popular Information
The Virginia voter purge
Election officials working under Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) have admitted to removing “nearly 3,400 qualified voters from the state’s rolls.” The Youngkin administration originally discovered the mistake at the beginning of October but grossly underestimated the number of voters affected. At the time, the team stated that they had removed just 270 eligible voters.
The problem, which was originally identified by VPM, occurred after Youngkin’s Elections Department “discovered 10,588 people on the state’s voter rolls who were ineligible to vote because of felony convictions” in late 2022. Election officials blamed a flaw in the software system, claiming that it allowed ex-felons who had previously had their voting rights restored to remain on the rolls after committing another felony. But the software "fix" did not “distinguish between probation violations committed by restored voters and entirely new felonies.” As a result, thousands of eligible voters were disenfranchised.
In an October 27 press release, Youngkin’s team stated that while many of the qualified voters’ rights had been restored, “approximately 100” of the voters remained disenfranchised. According to a statement from a spokesperson for Virginia’s Department of Elections, they are continuing “to monitor the situation daily at the locality level to ensure that all affected voters are reinstated.” Voters who were impacted by the purge “will receive written notification that their registrations have been reinstated,” the Department said.
The ACLU of Virginia is concerned that the Youngkin administration has still not identified the full scope of the problem. “We have no way to know if that 3,400 is actually correct,” Shawn Weneta of the ACLU of Virginia told Axios. “When they acknowledged the mistake, they said it was only 270 people. Well, three weeks later, they say it’s more than 10 times that number.”
Regardless, damage has been done. Early voting in Virginia started five weeks ago. The issue is not fully resolved, and election day is next week.
The stakes of this year’s Virginia election are extremely high, with control of the state legislature in the balance. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the State Senate with a majority, and Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the House of Delegates. According to the Washington Post, the outcome of the election will determine "the fate of his conservative legislative agenda, which includes banning most abortions after 15 weeks.”
Youngkin's play for Trump voters
In an appeal to Trump voters, Youngkin centered his 2021 gubernatorial campaign on “election integrity.” He was intentionally vague about his position on President Biden’s election. For months, Youngkin refused to acknowledge that Biden had won the election. (He finally acknowledged Biden's victory “after winning the [Republican] gubernatorial nomination.”) But Youngkin continued to send mixed messages. In August 2021, he spoke at an “Election Integrity” rally hosted by a GOP official who was outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6. A month later, during an interview with Axios, Youngkin declined to say if he would have voted to certify the election. (Days later, under pressure to clarify his position, he said he “absolutely…would have.”)
In September 2021, Youngkin claimed that “there wasn’t material fraud” and that he “believe[s] that the election was certifiably fair.” But less than a week later, he pushed for an “audit” of election machines used in 2020, echoing similar calls by Trump. “I think we need to make sure that people trust these voting machines,” Youngkin said. But, as CNN reported at the time, Virginia “had already run an audit of the election and published the results” five months prior to Youngkin’s comments. The Virginia Department of Elections reported that its “audit confirmed the results of the 2020 Presidential Election and US Senate race with over 99% confidence.”
Since winning the election and taking office, Youngkin has continued to undermine voting rights and election procedures. Earlier this year, Youngkin rescinded a policy, put into place in 2013 by former Governor Bob McDonald (R), that automatically restored the voting rights of non-violent felons who had completed their sentences and paid restitution. Under the new rules, all convicted felons “must file an application and will be considered on a case-by-case basis,” the Washington Post reports. The Youngkin administration has not disclosed the criteria used for evaluating applications.
In May, the Youngkin administration also pulled the state out of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan and proven initiative that ensures voter rolls are kept up to date. The move came a few months after former President Trump pushed Republican-led states to “immediately pull out of ERIC, the terrible Voter Registration System that ‘pumps the rolls’ for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up.”
The racist history of felony disenfranchisement
As of 2022, more than 4.6 million people convicted of a felony were barred from voting, the Sentencing Project reports. This number is largely a result of century-old state laws that sought to systematically restrict the rights of Black voters. As the Brennan Center explains, “it wasn’t until the end of the Civil War and the expansion of suffrage to black men that felony disenfranchisement became a significant barrier to U.S. ballot boxes.” Following the 13th Amendment’s ban on slavery, lawmakers began passing laws that criminalized recently freed Black people and stripped the voting rights of convicted felons. Alabama’s constitution, for example, states that “No person convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude…shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil and political rights…” The document, which was created in 1901 and has not been rewritten, arose out of a constitutional convention that was held with the express intention of establishing “white supremacy in this state.”
“The new Constitution eliminates the ignorant Negro vote and places the control of our government where God Almighty intended it should be — with the Anglo-Saxon race,” John Knox, the president of the convention, said at the time.
The number of people barred from voting has also increased due to the country’s swelling prison population. Over the last 50 years, beginning with Nixon’s war on drugs, mass incarceration has more than quadrupled. Consequently, between 1976 and 2016, the number of people who lost their right to vote due to a felony conviction increased by five times, from 1.2 million to 6.1 million, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Today, felony disenfranchisement continues to impact Black Americans disproportionately. The Sentencing Project found in 2022 that nationwide, one in 19 “African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised” — that’s more than three times the rate of all other racial groups combined. This is even more severe in states like Alabama and Virginia, where “[m]ore than one in 10 African American adults is disenfranchised.”