On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restored the voting rights of more than 69,000 Virginians who completed their prison sentences.
Northam did so by using new eligibility criteria that mirror a proposed change to the Constitution of Virginia that would automatically restore voting rights to individuals once they finish their sentence.
Northam announced that going forward, any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision. This change builds on a number of bipartisan reforms that have been made to the restoration of rights process over the last decade, including streamlining the application and eliminating the waiting period and the prerequisite that court costs and fees be paid prior to having one’s rights restored. With today’s announcement, Governor Northam has restored civil rights to more than 111,000 people since he took office.
“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” said Northam. “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.”
Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm. Virginia remains one of the three states in the nation whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony convictions, but gives the governor the sole discretion to restore civil rights, excluding firearm rights.