RICHMOND — Virginia election officials said Wednesday that they will reveal the names of nearly 13,000 felons who over the past few months have regained and then lost their right to vote, part of a still-raging drama fed by presidential politics.
The planned disclosure represents a partial about-face for the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), which announced in April that it would restore voting rights to about 200,000 nonviolent felons who had completed their sentences.
McAuliffe officials would not release the names of those felons, despite requests from registrars, GOP lawmakers and the media.
Last month, Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled that McAuliffe overstepped his authority by issuing the clemency order. Since 13,000 of the 200,000 felons had already registered to vote, the court ordered the state to once again put their names on its list of banned voters.
At a meeting Wednesday, the State Board of Elections voted 2 to 1 in favor of a resolution saying that the state had fully complied with everything the court had ordered.
Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés later said that the state would release the list of 13,000 names because federal law requires that voter cancellation data be disclosed.
The names, which will be posted on the state government’s website, could provide a potent political tool against McAuliffe for Republicans, who even without the list managed to ferret out the names of some murderers and sex offenders whose rights McAuliffe had accidentally restored.
The disclosure also will allow registrars and others to confirm whether the state has stricken the 13,000 recently restored felons from its voter rolls.
McAuliffe said the voting-rights restoration order would move Virginia away from a harsh lifetime disenfranchisement policy that hit African Americans particularly hard.
Republicans said the order was really a bid to add Democrat-friendly voters to the rolls ahead of November’s presidential elections, when the governor’s close friend and political ally Hillary Clinton will be on the ballot.
The lawsuit filed by GOP lawmakers said McAuliffe lacked the power to restore voting rights en masse instead of individually, as all previous governors have done.
Doubts about whether the 13,000 felons have again been stripped of their voting rights persist among McAuliffe’s critics, in part because of the errors and missteps in the administration’s attempt to enforce the governor’s order before it was ruled unconstitutional.
Among the skeptics is Clara Belle Wheeler, vice chair of the three-member State Board of Elections, who pressed unsuccessfully Wednesday for far more disclosure: She wanted the government to release the names of the more than 200,000 felons who were originally said to be eligible to regain the right to vote.
Wheeler was the holdout in Wednesday’s board vote. She said the declaration of compliance was premature because the 13,000 names had not been released, much less checked for accuracy against voter records. Election officials said they expected to post the names online Wednesday or soon thereafter.
“There’s no list of the 13,000. . . . It hasn’t happened,” Wheeler said. “I want to make sure I have all the information that I need if I’m called to the Supreme Court to swear that I complied with the order.”
James B. Alcorn, chairman of the board, said the court had ordered the state to update its master list of prohibited voters to include the more than 200,000 felons who had been covered by McAuliffe’s order. “My understanding is it has been,” he said.
The administration will provide the felons’ names and addresses, without dates of birth or criminal history. Republicans could try to look up their criminal records and go public with any examples that are of concern.
“The people of Virginia can now hold the governor accountable,” said Matthew Moran, spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford).
At the meeting, Wheeler pressed Cortés on whether the state has a list of every felon who would have been covered by McAuliffe’s clemency orders.
“Is there a list somewhere, a master list, of all 213,874 individuals on the prohibited-voter list?” she asked.
Cortés declined to respond directly, saying only that registrars can access a state database that includes criminal records to check the eligibility of anyone who registers to vote.
“We work in databases. We don’t work in a singular list fashion,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It’s pulling information from all sorts of places.”