With less than a week left until the Virginia Supreme Court takes up the legal challenge to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive action that gave 206,000 felons their voting rights, damning revelations about the people who had their rights restored and the nature in which the action was carried out continue to pile up.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that two fugitive sex offenders who have been convicted of violent acts toward minors were among the felons included in McAuliffe’s executive action.
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James A. Hyams, 42, was convicted in Kentucky for raping a minor in 2000. Hyams was released but violated his parole in Virginia by committing grand larceny in 2012. He pleaded guilty to the charge but fled the state and was locked up in a New York prison. Vashawn L. Gray, 30, was convicted in Virginia for aggravated sexual battery of a minor in 2004 and has failed to register as a sex offender. His "whereabouts are unknown," according to his probation officer.
Both men are listed as "wanted" by the state sex offender registry, yet both also appear on the long list of felons who not only had their voting rights restored, but also their rights to serve on a jury, hold public office, and petition to have their gun rights restored.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch writes that it "identified the fugitive errors by checking about 80 names pulled from recent police reports, news stories, and the state’s list of wanted sex offenders with known addresses in Richmond."
Those working to vet the list for errors have been forced to take shots in the dark because the McAuliffe administration has refused to make public the list of people who had their rights restored.
To use the Restoration of Rights Database, one is required to input a name, date of birth, and social security number.
The McAuliffe administration has denied Freedom of Information Act requests for the list of felons on the grounds that it is an "executive working paper," and said that it will remain confidential. The administration also said it will classify the list as a working paper until it is uploaded to the state voter system, where it will remain confidential as a protected election paper.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, an official government entity that issues advisory opinions on transparency issues, said this week that it disagrees with McAuliffe.
"Even if the list was originally a working paper prepared for the Office of the Governor’s personal or deliberative use, it has subsequently been disseminated beyond that original personal or deliberative use and therefore is no longer excluded from mandatory disclosure as a working paper," the Advisory Council wrote in an opinion released on Monday.
A McAuliffe spokesman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the Advisory Council is "wrong" and that it has no plans to change course on the issue. Neither the press, state prosecutors, or state legislature have been given access to the list.
Although the individuals mistakenly put on the list have been hard to pick out due to its secretive nature, many have been exposed, and the McAuliffe administration has been forced to admit mistakes.
Included on the list are violent felons who remain in prison, "sexually violent predators" who remain under government supervision, and individuals who have committed violent crimes since the order was implemented.
One man is facing attempted murder and arson charges for attempting to trap a woman inside a house by blocking the door with a mattress he had lit on fire. Another, who was fleeing the cops in his car before driving off the road into a building, pointed his gun at a state trooper before being arrested.
McAuliffe has framed his executive order as a moral attempt to welcome past offenders back into society, but critics say it was a politically motivated move to help Democrats carry the state in November’s presidential election.
The Virginia Supreme Court will hear arguments from state Republicans seeking to block the executive action on July 19.