RICHMOND — Republican lawmakers on Friday urged Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to fire state workers who erroneously restored voting rights to felons currently in prison or on probation.
They also called for the governor to apologize for the mistake of including felons behind bars among 206,000 former convicts made eligible to vote by McAuliffe’s blanket clemency order.
“The governor was so eager to get this done, it appears he didn’t even do due diligence,” House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) told reporters during a conference call. “I’m frankly stunned at what we’ve learned. It’s incredibly reckless.”
When McAuliffe issued his executive order in April, his administration said it would apply only to felons who had served their time, completed probation and were no longer in the criminal-justice system.
The governor vowed on Friday to correct any errors and defended state employees, saying a few mistakes were bound to be made.
“The people who worked on this worked very, very, very hard,” he told reporters after an unrelated bill signing. “I would just ask anyone in the Republican Party, I’d like to see them put together a list of 206,000 names and 17 million bits of information. . . . [We’ve] got a handful of problems and we’re going to fix it.”
The governor’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said no one will lose their job as a result of what he called administrative errors in compiling a list used to create a public website to check, according to dates of birth and Social Security numbers, whether an individual’s civil rights have been restored.
Questions about the accuracy of the list have been at the center of a dispute between McAuliffe and GOP lawmakers since April 22, when the governor reversed Virginia’s century-old practice of disenfranchising felons.
At the time, he said the order would help Virginia move past the Jim Crow era, because African Americans have been disproportionately affected by felon disenfranchisement. According to the state, about half of newly restored felons are African Americans, despite the fact that blacks make up less than 20 percent of Virginia’s population.
Until then, Virginia governors restored civil rights to felons on a case-by-case basis.
Republicans immediately blasted the order, and last week they filed a lawsuit alleging that McAuliffe overstepped his constitutional authority.
After the administration declined to release the list to the public, prosecutors in Fauquier and Loudoun counties punched identifying data for violent felons into the database and found at least seven who should not have been eligible, according to McAuliffe’s criteria, but whose rights were restored.
Among those is Ronald R. Cloud, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to the murder of a Fauquier County man in a three-decade-old cold case and is in prison in West Virginia, and Daniel Harmon-Wright, who was a Culpeper police officer when he fatally shot a woman in her Jeep in 2012. He is on parole and living in California.
Coy said the mistakes occurred in some instances because the state did not check for felons living outside Virginia.
He said the state is correcting errors as they are discovered; he could not say how many have been caught.
“The safeguard here is if an individual who is not in accordance with the criteria for restoration of rights fills out a voter registration application, they will be subject to a felony conviction,” he said.
He added that the administration plans to release the list next year as part of an annual report to the General Assembly.
Republicans say they want the list to prevent fraud in the November election. They have accused McAuliffe of granting blanket clemency to help his friend Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. McAuliffe has denied any political motivation.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.