When Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that he was restoring the political rights of about 206,000 felons, it came as no surprise to New Virginia Majority, which had fliers already printed encouraging would-be voters to register immediately. The progressive activist group got an official invite days ahead of the April 22 news conference and Tram Nguyen, the group’s co-executive director, had more than three weeks’ notice that the order was coming. “Now that I’m home and have let the news sink in, I’m literally sitting here crying,” Nguyen wrote in a March 30 email to Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson, then a deputy in the office, after the two met earlier in the day. “We’ve been asking for this since the Kaine administration. What this administration is doing is a game changer in so many ways—in particular, for the lives that you’re touching. THANK YOU!”
More than 7,500 people have registered to vote as a result of McAuliffe’s order. Voter registrars throughout the state, including Petersburg’s Dawn Williams, learned of the order through media reports published as McAuliffe made the announcement on the steps of the Capitol. “We had no forewarning at all,” Williams said. “In essence, registrars across the commonwealth had no further notice than anyone else. Our concerns were how the process was going to be handled.”
Emails obtained by the Richmond–Times Dispatch through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request show the McAuliffe administration planning for the announcement by inviting rights-restoration advocates and political allies.
But the communications yielded little in the way of evidence of advance planning or consultation with the voter registrars, prosecutors or other officials who would deal with the mechanics of the order and its ramifications.