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NAACP says docs show Youngkin administration acts arbitrarily when restoring voting rights

The NAACP of Virginia scored a partial win over the weekend against Governor Glenn Youngkin in their Freedom of Information Act fight over the governor’s felon voting rights restoration activity.

Virginia is one of the few states that permanently take the right to vote from those convicted of felonies. And in the Commonwealth the governor has the sole authority to give that right back.

Former Governors Ralph Northam and Terry McAuliffe, both Democrats, laid out a detailed process and reinstated the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated people.

But under Youngkin, restoration has slowed to a trickle. In October, the civil rights group filed suit, seeking more details on how, when and why the governor returns those rights and when he doesn’t.

On Monday Virginia NAACP President Robert Barnette, Jr. announced they’d gotten documents from the Governor’s Office of Rights Restoration. Among them is an exchange between an ex-felon and the rights restoration office which Barnette says proves an arbitrary process.

“We got enough to indicate there’s no clear process for this administration’s restoration of rights,” Barnette said. “Several applicants were told ‘reapply next year, something things may have changed,” with no explanation of what they need to do.”

Barnette also said the newest tranche of documents also shows about 1,000 people have pending applications. He said that’s 1,000 possible voters missing from this year’s election with all 140 legislative seats on the ballot.

A spokesperson for Youngkin's office said the NAACP was engaging in political tactics. “The administration engaged in a multi-month process with the NAACP with multiple meetings and discussions," Macaulay Porter wrote. "We have produced approximately 680 pages of records, some of which the governor was not required to produce under FOIA laws. In a good faith effort to work with the NAACP, our office underwent an extensive process to fulfill their requests and they just continue to employ political tactics. The Governor firmly believes in the importance of second chances for Virginians who have made mistakes but are working to move forward as active members of our citizenry."

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.