Virginia erroneously purged almost 3,400 voters from the state’s rolls, election officials said in the run-up to statewide elections on Tuesday.
The administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, had previously said that about 270 voters had been mistakenly removed from the rolls because of an error in the state’s computer system. The state’s admission on Friday that the problem was an order of magnitude larger than previously disclosed drew outcry from voting rights groups and the state’s Democratic Party.
“The lack of transparency here is troubling,” said Aaron Mukerjee, the voter protection director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, adding that earlier assurances from state officials that the error was a minor issue made it “hard to believe” that the new number was accurate.
The election on Tuesday in Virginia is projected as a tossup, and will decide control of the state’s closely divided legislature. It will also offer both national parties a sense of their electoral strengths and weaknesses heading into 2024.
Election integrity has become a key issue in Virginia, with conservative activists using next week’s election as a testing ground for a larger strategy to detect voter fraud in the 2024 election.
The affected voters were people previously convicted of felonies who had their voting rights restored after completing their sentences, according to the state’s Department of Elections, and a software error misclassified probation violations as new felonies that would automatically strip the residents of their voting rights under Virginia law.
The department has said that all but about 100 people have had their rights reinstated.
Virginia is the only state that permanently disenfranchises voters who have been convicted of a felony, and they can have their rights restored only through individual petitions to the governor’s office, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Mr. Youngkin, who took office last year, had rescinded policies enacted by previous governors that automatically restored voting rights to residents who had completed felony sentences.
Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Mr. Youngkin, said that “the governor has consistently stated all eligible voters should be able to vote,” adding that he has asked the state’s inspector general to investigate the “causes and circumstances” of the purge of the voter rolls.
The potential election impact is likely to be small among the more than six million Virginians registered to vote. Voters who have completed sentences for felony convictions are four times as likely to be registered as Democrats or unaffiliated, but Republicans in that group are also more likely to vote, according to a 2019 study by Ragnar Research Partners.
An analysis by the Marshall Project also found that about 1 in 4 formerly incarcerated voters who had their rights restored had registered to vote in the 2020 election in four key states.
But the timing of Virginia’s disclosure — roughly a week before Election Day — combined with earlier statements by state officials that were dismissive of the issue, drew wide attention.
“While the administration says it’s fixed the problem, the delays and obfuscation threaten to undermine confidence in next week’s consequential legislative election,” the editorial board of The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press wrote on Tuesday.