More felons registered to vote in the city of Richmond than any other locality in Virginia under Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s now-overruled executive order that restored political rights to more than 200,000 ex-offenders, according to a list of canceled voters released Wednesday.
Of the 12,832 voter registrations canceled because of a Supreme Court of Virginia ruling last month, 1,075 had Richmond addresses, followed by 965 in Norfolk and 871 in Henrico County. Chesterfield County saw 572 voters affected, while Hanover County had 138.
Voter registration groups focused much of their efforts in Richmond neighborhoods immediately after the governor’s April 22 news conference. Richmond mayoral candidate Levar Stoney has also been closely involved in the issue after overseeing rights restoration as McAuliffe’s former secretary of the commonwealth.
Combined, roughly one-fifth of the people who gained and lost the right to vote under McAuliffe’s blanket clemency orders live in the Richmond region’s four most populous localities.
State elections officials released the names and addresses Wednesday of nearly 13,000 felons recently removed from voter rolls to comply with the Supreme Court’s July 22 order. Until Wednesday, the McAuliffe administration had kept the felons’ identities confidential.
At a State Board of Elections meeting Wednesday morning, Edgardo Cortés, McAuliffe’s appointed elections commissioner, said he is required to release the list because of a federal law that defines voter-cancellation records as public information. The partial list, which elections officials posted online Wednesday evening, includes names and addresses, but no information on would-be voters’ criminal history.
The elections board voted 2-1 to certify that the state has fully complied with the court order. The ruling, a result of a Republican-led legal challenge, required the elections department to cancel the invalid voter registrations and add roughly 214,000 felons back to the prohibited voter list.
Clara Belle Wheeler, the board’s lone Republican, opposed the resolution, saying she could not verify compliance without having a complete list of all felons being made ineligible again.
“I think that it would behoove us to not pass judgment on something that we can’t verify,” Wheeler said.
Cortés said he wasn’t sure if the complete list could be shared with the board members who oversee his agency.
“The department would have to consult with counsel to determine whether or not that’s allowable to release or how that process would work,” Cortés said.
McAuliffe officials have been vague when asked whether a separate list exists showing who was covered under the governor’s April 22 order and subsequent renewals.
At the meeting, Cortés told the board that “it’s not a matter of just printing out an Excel file.” Documents obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch suggest that’s exactly how the list has been passed among state agencies.
On April 27, an IT staffer in the elections department sent an Excel spreadsheet to the Virginia Department of Corrections as an email attachment to allow corrections officials to perform a demographic analysis on felons covered by the order. A summary of that analysis was later released publicly.
The corrections department refused to release the underlying Excel file to The Times-Dispatch, saying it was exempt from public records law as both protected voter information and working papers of the governor. When asked about the Excel email after Wednesday’s meeting, Cortés told reporters he wasn’t aware of it.
Cortés assured the board that the department has fully complied with the Supreme Court’s directives, and board members thanked him for completing the work before the Aug. 25 deadline imposed by the court.
Board Chairman James B. Alcorn said he saw nothing in the Supreme Court opinion ordering outside access to the full felon list.
“I don’t read this as saying that the board or the general public is to have a public list of the prohibited voters,” Alcorn said.
Wheeler also said she would have liked to hear feedback from local registrars, who were unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting because of a conference in Roanoke.
In a 4-3 opinion, the Supreme Court found that the governor does not have the authority to issue a blanket clemency order without case-by-case review. Such a step, the court majority said, effectively undermines the state’s constitutional policy of lifetime disenfranchisement for felons.
McAuliffe, who has characterized his efforts as an attempt to end a restrictive voting policy that prevents rehabilitated felons from fully reintegrating into society, has vowed to restore voting rights on an individual basis for all people covered by his previous order. He has signed no such orders since the Supreme Court decision.
At a town hall held in Richmond on Tuesday night, Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson asked for patience, saying the administration is finalizing a process for restoring rights individually.
By the numbers: The interactive map below offers a locality-by-locality look at the number of people affected by the voter registration cancellations. The map was made with figures compiled from the Virginia Department of Elections list released Wednesday and prior department reports on voter registration activity. Click on the map to see data for each locality.