Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Read more VPM News coverage of the historic 2023 elections in Virginia.

Virginia State Police prepares election ‘watch team’ for voter removals

Williams speaks into a microphone
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Sheba Williams gives remarks during a rally against voter purging on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia.

Eligible voters continue to come forward with accounts of being removed from the state rolls.

Virginia State Police and state election officials have prepared a plan for determining whether voters who use Virginia’s same-day voter registration were mistakenly removed from the rolls.

It’s unclear if the process is directly connected to the incorrect removal of nearly 3,400 voters from the state rolls ahead of the Nov. 7 election, with all 140 seats in the General Assembly on the ballot. The Virginia Department of Elections, or ELECT, said in an Oct. 27 release the individuals were people with probation violations that were “misclassified” as much more serious — and in Virginia, disenfranchising — felony convictions.

But VPM News has identified at least two additional cases where individuals were removed from state rolls for reasons that seem to go beyond that scenario. In one case, a man who’d never been charged with a felony said he was removed without notice in September. In reality, his alleged convictions involved a defendant with a completely different name. In another, a man who’d had his voting rights restored by a previous governor was removed in May 2022 after a misdemeanor charge — not a probation violation.

In both instances, the men’s voting rights were ultimately restored after they challenged the state.

Hilll speaks at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Nathanial Hill gives remarks during a rally against voter purging on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia.

In Oct. 25 guidance to local registrars, ELECT suggested the state is preparing for the possibility that there may still be individuals who were mistakenly placed on the state’s “prohibited voter” list and who are voting for the first time on Election Day.

If a person who checks in at their polling location Tuesday is flagged as a prohibited voter, the memo said registrars should send an encrypted email or call what the memo describes as a “VSP Watch Team” with additional information on the voter, like the last four digits of their Social Security number. VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller said the department has provided a direct line for registrars “for at least the past decade.”

Virginia is the only state in the U.S. where people who’ve committed any felony automatically lose their right to vote unless the governor restores it, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

In September, VPM News reported on an Arlington County man who’d had his rights restored by former Gov. Ralph Northam, but had been stricken from the voter rolls after a probation violation.

State officials at ELECT and VSP initially denied there was a systemic problem. The next week, they acknowledged the error; a spokesperson of Gov. Glenn Youngkin estimated it affected fewer than 300 people. But on Oct. 27, ELECT said the total was more than 10 times that estimate.

Beyond probation violations

Neal MacDonald’s name doesn’t bear any resemblance to an individual with the last name “Richardson.” But the two men were apparently confused by the state’s Central Criminal Records Exchange, which is maintained by VSP.

In a letter dated Sept. 19, then–Fairfax City Registrar Brenda Cabrera told MacDonald he’d been removed from the state’s voter rolls because of a felony conviction. In an interview, MacDonald said he was surprised because he’d never been charged with any crime.

The letter instructed MacDonald to contact VSP if he believed the convictions were incorrect. MacDonald went to a local VSP office for fingerprinting. On Oct. 18, the department confirmed his data didn’t match those in the cases he was erroneously connected to and scrubbed them from the file.

“Thankfully, I got the registration reinstated, and was able to do early voting successfully,” MacDonald said. “But it was definitely a hassle.”

The cases concerned Richardson, who had a Fairfax County address, according to court records. It does not appear Richardson was ever convicted of more than a misdemeanor in the cases.

Geller didn’t directly address how the mix-up came about. But she said the CCRE contains data on more than 2.5 million people with inputs from various state and local law enforcement agencies, court clerks and others specified by state law. Geller said of that group, about 90-120 people challenge a VSP record in a year.

“State police encourage anyone who suspects an inaccuracy to contact VSP and request a criminal record challenge,” Geller said. “The most common reasons for record inaccuracies are stranger/familial identity theft, data entry error and alias listings.”

In another case, a man who asked not to be identified had his rights restored after a felony conviction by former Gov. Ralph Northam in September 2021. In May 2022, he received a letter from the Virginia Beach election office, which was also viewed by VPM News, stating he’d been convicted of a new felony and consequently removed from the rolls.

The man had in fact faced a new misdemeanor charge — not a felony conviction. He said VSP ignored his complaints until he contacted the ACLU of Virginia. The organization got the attention of state officials, and the man said he was reinstated.

What to do if you’ve been kicked off the rolls

Advocacy groups are preparing to help people who arrive at the polls and discover their name isn’t on the rolls or who are told they’re on a list of prohibited voters.

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the progressive organizing group New Virginia Majority, said voters should ask poll workers to call the registrar to confirm the voter’s eligibility over the phone.

“If you haven’t been reinstated, request to complete a same-day voter registration application and vote on a provisional ballot,” Nguyen said in a statement.

Nguyen also pointed voters to a self-described nonpartisan coalition hotline operated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which can be reached at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Same-day registration on Election Day can only happen at a voter’s polling place, which can be found online or by calling a local election office. This is the second general election to take advantage of the process, which passed the then–Democrat controlled General Assembly along party lines in 2020.

Updated: November 7, 2023 at 9:25 AM EST
Adds new comment from a Virginia State Police spokesperson.
Corrected: November 7, 2023 at 9:25 AM EST
The locality where Brenda Cabrera worked was misidentified in a previous version of this story. Cabrera worked as the Fairfax City registrar.
Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
Related Stories