Virginians Convicted Of Felonies Will Regain Right To Vote Upon Release A new executive action by Gov. Ralph Northam will immediately restore a number of civil rights for people who complete their sentences.
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Virginians Convicted Of Felonies Will Regain Right To Vote Upon Release

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also said he would focus on alleviating the high infection rate of COVID-19 among the state's Latino population. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that Virginians serving time in prison for felonies will regain a number of civil rights — including the right to vote — upon release, a policy that will immediately apply to almost 70,000 people across the commonwealth who have already completed their sentences.

"Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity," Northam said in a statement. "We are a commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past. If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that."

Current Virginia law prevents any convicted felon in Virginia from voting, serving as a juror, running for office, and even becoming a notary public. The governor has the sole discretion to restore those rights, excluding the right to carry a firearm, though those decisions came after a person had completed any form of supervised release like parole or probation.

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Under the Reforms Restoration of Rights Process eligibility Northam outlined on Tuesday, 69,000 Virginians will see their civil rights restored immediately, even if they are released on supervision. Northam said the executive action mirrors a proposed change to the Constitution of Virginia that would automatically restore voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.

Several bipartisan reforms have been made in this area over the last decade, including the elimination of a requirement that court fees be paid prior to the restoration of one's rights.

Former Virginia governor and current gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe praised Northam's actions, citing his own fight with the then-Republican legislature to restore voting rights to disenfranchised Virginians. During his term, McAuliffe restored voting rights for more than 170,000 convicted felons.

"Here in the commonwealth, for more than a century, this racist Jim Crow law that was enacted specifically to disenfranchise Black Virginians has done just that. This is a moral and civil rights issue, and one that speaks to the core of who we are as Democrats and as Virginians," McAuliffe said.

State lawmakers approved an amendment to the constitution during the 2021 legislative session that affirms the right to vote and would automatically restore the civil rights of any Virginian upon completion of their sentence. The amendment must be passed again by the legislature in 2022 before heading to a voter referendum.

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