Richmond Times-Dispatch: Dems in Congress renew call for DOJ probe into Va. Department of Elections

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, CHARLOTTE RENE WOODS

Virginia’s Democratic members of Congress have renewed their request for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into issues that have occurred within Virginia’s Department of Elections.

A jointly signed letter to the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, comes weeks after their first letter and days after they learned that the number of people mistakenly removed from Virginia’s voter rolls was much higher than the Department indicated weeks ago.

Last Friday, Virginia’s Department of Elections announced that roughly 3,400 affected voters had been restored and about 100 had yet to be.

“This is over 10 times more voters than initially announced, and the information comes less than two weeks before Election Day and more than a month after the start of early voting,” said the letter, whose signers include Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, and Rep. Jennifer McClellan, D-4th.

The affected voters are felons who had served their time and had their rights restored. While new felony offenses would result in being removed from voter rolls, these people had not committed new felonies.

In Virginia, people permanently lose their right to vote once convicted of a felony and the governor can consider restoring that right. Three previous governors, two Democrats and a Republican, had worked to streamline the restoration process and restore more people’s rights after they served their prison time. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration quietly shifted the process from automatic upon release to a petition process where restorations are considered on an “individual basis.”

Concerned by the errors, Youngkin has requested an investigation through the state’s watchdog agency, the Office of the Inspector General.

While Youngkin seeks more details about what went wrong under his department’s watch, Virginia’s Democratic members of Congress are concerned about a few mishaps at Virginia’s Department of Elections and some choices the administration has made.

“These improper removals follow other troubling actions related to voting rights in the Commonwealth,” the letter stated.

Other concerns the Democratic members of Congress addressed were the backlog in processing registrations that occurred weeks before election day last year and the department’s withdrawal this past summer from a multi-state data-sharing program.

Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, was created in 2012 with Virginia as one of the seven founding members.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, promoted it at the time. The partnership allows for states to compare voting data to identify people who have died or moved between states and adjust rolls accordingly — measures that can prevent or catch instances of voter fraud.

Virginia’s ERIC pullout followed several other GOP-led states that have withdrawn such as Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas. Over the past year, the data-sharing program became the subject of far-right blogs that framed it as part of a liberal conspiracy to steal elections. During the withdrawal, the Youngkin administration asserted the reason for the exit was the cost of participation. The department has since formed its own data sharing agreements with some other states.

With early voting coming to a close and Election Day about a week away, the congressional Democrats’ second letter urges “immediate action.”

“We reiterate our request that DOJ take immediate action to investigate how these removals happened and what is being done to ensure that those whose names were illegally removed from the voting rolls are informed in a timely and effective manner so that they are able to cast a vote,” it read.

A press secretary with the Justice Department confirmed receipt of the letters but declined to comment on the matter as of Tuesday afternoon.

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