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Read more VPM News coverage of the historic 2023 elections in Virginia.

Virginia reinstates nearly 3,400 voters after accidental purge

Voter turnout was strong in many precincts across Virginia.
Angela Massino
VPM News File
In a letter to the ACLU of Virginia earlier this week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s secretary of administration, Lyn McDermid, said he was “deeply concerned” by the mistake and believed all eligible voters should have a chance to cast a ballot.

The total is more than 10 times the initial estimate provided by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office.

The Virginia Department of Elections announced Friday that local registrars had completed reinstating nearly all of the 3,400 people to the state’s voter rolls who were incorrectly removed. The total is more than 10 times higher than the administration’s initial estimate of less than 300 voters.

ELECT said affected voters would be notified by mail. It also said local registrars had yet to process around 100 reinstatements.

“ELECT continues to monitor the situation daily at the locality level to ensure that all affected voters are reinstated,” the statement said.

Early voting is well underway for Virginia’s Nov. 7 elections, when the balance of power in the state legislature is up for grabs.

The voters affected by the error, which was first reported by VPM News, were convicted of felonies at some point in the past. The Virginia Constitution strips people with any felony convictions of the right to cast ballots, serve on juries or as notary publics, as well as run for office unless the governor restores their civil rights, a policy dating back to the Jim Crow Era.

The affected voters had their rights restored but were still removed from the rolls after a probation violation — not a new felony conviction.

The group of disenfranchised voters was seemingly swept up in a December purge of more than 10,000 voters by the department of elections, which targeted voters who’d had their rights restored but gone on to be convicted of a new felony. The department said at the time it had fixed a coding error that mistakenly allowed these individuals to remain on the voter rolls.

Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin ordered the Office of the State Inspector General to investigate the removals, as well as how people with felony convictions may have remained on the voter lists.

In the Richmond area, at least 392 people were added back to the rolls as of Friday, according to totals provided by the registrars of the city of Richmond, and Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties.

In an interview hours before the department’s announcement, ACLU of Virginia policy strategist Shawn Weneta said he was concerned the episode would deter eligible voters from casting ballots out of fear of legal repercussions.

“I can't imagine how humiliating it must be to show up at the polls, knowing your rights have been restored by the governor and then being told that you can't vote — that your voice doesn't matter,” Weneta said. “That's something that no voters should have to go through.”

In a letter to the ACLU of Virginia earlier this week, Youngkin’s secretary of administration, Lyn McDermid, said the governor was “deeply concerned” by the mistake and believed all eligible voters should have a chance to cast a ballot.

State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) blamed the governor for the error.

“This is what happens when you put an election denier Governor in charge of voting,” Surovell posted on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter.

Youngkin initially launched his campaign for governor on a platform of “election integrity” in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. He dodged questions about Democratic President Joe Biden’s victory during the GOP primary but confirmed he believed in its legitimacy after securing the Republican nomination.

Corrected: October 30, 2023 at 9:55 AM EDT
A previous version of this story misstated what infractions count as a technical probation violation.
Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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