How to restore voting rights in virginia

A summary of current felony disenfranchisement policies and the history of advocacy in Virginia.

On March 16, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam took exec­ut­ive action to restore the right to vote to all Virgini­ans who are not currently incar­cer­ated, and he has stated his inten­tion of continu­ing this prac­tice going forward for all Virgini­ans upon their release from prison. This exec­ut­ive action builds on past efforts from prior gubernat­orial admin­is­tra­tions to restore voting rights for Virgini­ans after they had completed proba­tion or parole. Virginia is one of three states whose consti­tu­tion other­wise perman­ently disen­fran­chises all citizens with past felony convic­tions, but grants the state’s governor the author­ity to restore voting rights. Northam’s action follows the General Assembly’s passage of a consti­tu­tional amend­ment that would cement the auto­matic restor­a­tion of voting rights upon release from prison. In order to take effect, that amend­ment must be passed again after a new legis­lature is seated follow­ing the 2021 elec­tions, and then approved by a major­ity of Virginia voters.

Recent Devel­op­ments

Virgini­a’s disen­fran­chise­ment provi­sion dates to the nine­teenth century, and advoc­ates have worked for years, urging Virginia governors to exer­cise their exec­ut­ive author­ity to restore voting rights. The Bren­nan Center was among those who urged Governors Mark Warner (2005), Tim Kaine (2009), and Robert McDon­nell (2010) to do so. In 2021, after years of progress through exec­ut­ive action, the legis­lature finally began the process of amend­ing Virgini­a’s consti­tu­tion to elim­in­ate perman­ent disen­fran­chise­ment.

In May 2013, rights restor­a­tion gained momentum when then-Gov. McDon­nell ended Virgini­a’s policy of perman­ently disen­fran­chising all citizens with felony convic­tions. His action auto­mated rights restor­a­tion for people complet­ing sentences (includ­ing payment of any fines, fees, and resti­tu­tion) for convic­tions clas­si­fied as non-viol­ent and elim­in­ated their two-year wait­ing period, though it required that each person receive an indi­vidu­al­ized rights restor­a­tion certi­fic­ate before regis­ter­ing to vote.

In April 2014, Gov. Terry McAul­iffe announced that he would further stream­line the restor­a­tion process. The policy change broadened the category of people who auto­mat­ic­ally received their right to vote upon the comple­tion of their sentence, and shortened the rights restor­a­tion wait­ing period for rehab­il­it­ated viol­ent offend­ers to apply from five years to three.

In June 2015, Gov. McAul­iffe removed the require­ment that citizens fully pay court costs and fees to have their voting rights restored.

In April 2016, Gov. McAul­iffe issued an exec­ut­ive order restor­ing voting rights to Virgini­ans with felony convic­tions who, as of that date, had completed the terms of their incar­cer­a­tion and any period of super­vised release (proba­tion or parole). He issued similar orders in May and June. These orders were chal­lenged in court, and in July 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Howell v. McAul­iffe that they viol­ated the state consti­tu­tion, which required the governor to make clem­ency determ­in­a­tions on a case-by-case basis.

In August 2016, Gov. McAul­iffe announced that his office would issue restor­a­tion orders on an indi­vidual basis to Virgini­ans with completed sentences, start­ing with the approx­im­ately 13,000 citizens who had their voter regis­tra­tions cancelled in the wake of the Howell decision. The governor also announced that, going forward, the Secret­ary of the Common­wealth would identify indi­vidu­als with completed sentences, start­ing with indi­vidu­als who have been released from super­vi­sion the longest. The Secret­ary would then recom­mend indi­vidu­als for rights restor­a­tion on a rolling basis to the Governor for his final approval. Indi­vidu­als may also receive an exped­ited restor­a­tion order by apply­ing directly to the Secret­ary’s Office online or by mail. Accord­ing to the announce­ment, the Secret­ary will announce citizens that received an indi­vidu­al­ized restor­a­tion order on a monthly basis.

In March 2021, the General Assembly approved a consti­tu­tional amend­ment to provide for the auto­matic restor­a­tion of voting rights upon release from prison. The General Assembly must re-approve this consti­tu­tional amend­ment in the next legis­lat­ive session before it can be sent to the voters for rati­fic­a­tion. Subsequently, Gov. Northam took exec­ut­ive action to restore the right to vote to all Virgini­ans on proba­tion or parole, mirror­ing the consti­tu­tional amend­ment, and he has stated his inten­tion of continu­ing this prac­tice going forward for all Virgini­ans upon their release from prison.

Mater­i­als on 2016 Exec­ut­ive Orders and Howell v. McAul­iffe Case

Bren­nan Center Cover­age

  • The Vote in Virginia, Andrew Cohen (Apr. 25, 2016)
  • Keep Polit­ics Out of Virginia Voting Rights Restor­a­tion, Tomas Lopez & Kwame Akosah (July 19, 2016)
  • Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to 200,000 Citizens (Apr. 22, 2016)
  • How Much of a Differ­ence Did New Voting Restric­tions Make in Yester­day’s Close Races?, Wendy Weiser, Cross­pos­ted at Bill Moyers & Company (Nov. 5, 2014)
  • The Demo­cracy Restor­a­tion Act: Secur­ing Voting Rights for All, Nicole Austin-Hillery, Cross­pos­ted at Amer­ican Consti­tu­tion Soci­ety (April 15, 2014)
  • States of Dysfunc­tion: Voting Issues from Elec­tion Day 2013, Victoria Bassetti (Nov. 6, 2013)
  • Virgini­a’s Step Forward On Voting Rights, Carson Whitelem­ons (June 11, 2013)
  • A Step Forward in Virginia on Restor­ing Voting Rights, Vishal Agra­harkar, Cross­pos­ted at The Huff­ing­ton Post (Jan. 11, 2013)
  • Jim Crow makes a comeback in Virginia, Erika Wood, Origin­ally published at The Grio (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • WOOD: Restore the Vote to These Virgini­ans, Erika Wood, Rich­mond Times-Dispatch (Jan. 13, 2010)
  • It Isn’t Complic­ated: Restore the Vote to 300,000 Amer­ic­ans, Erika Wood, Origin­ally published in the Rich­mond Times-Dispatch (Jan. 13, 2010)

Press

Bren­nan Center Public­a­tions

Restoration of Rights in Virginia

On April 22, 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a historic executive order restoring the civil rights of an estimated 206,000 disenfranchised Virginians. Unfortunately on July 22, 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Governor could not restore the voting rights of those formerly convicted with one executive order. The Governor has decided to individually restore the voting rights of the 206,000 disenfranchised Virginians.

What does this mean for you?

  1. If you have registered to vote because your rights were restored under the Governor’s executive order, you must wait to receive a letter from the Governor informing you that your individual rights have been restored. Once you receive the letter, you must re-register to vote before the October 17, 2016 deadline to be eligible to vote in the upcoming November election. You can register to vote by mail, at your local the local registrar’s office, or online at http://elections.virginia.gov/citizen-portal/index.html.
  2. If you have not yet registered to vote and have not received a letter from the Governor restoring your rights, monitor the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website to check your restoration status. You must follow the instructions on the website about how to confirm whether your rights have been restored before you attempt to register to vote.
  3. IMPORTANT: The Secretary of the Commonwealth is expediting (or fast-tracking) restoration of rights letters for individuals who contact them about their status. Contact the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office immediately to expedite your restoration status and letter. You can contact the SOC online, by telephone at 804-692-0104, or mail in a contact form.

Check Your Restoration Status

Virginians are encouraged to check their restoration status online or call 804-692-0104.

All individuals who have had their rights restored can register to vote immediately. You must register to vote before voting in any election. Any individual applying to register to vote must swear under oath on the application, state that they have been convicted of a felony, and that they have had their rights restored.

If you encounter a problem or difficulty obtaining your restoration status or registering to vote, contact the ACLU of Virginia.

How to have your Restoration of Rights Shown on your Criminal Record

Once your civil rights have been restored by the Governor, you may have a notation added to your Virginia Criminal Record showing your Restoration of Rights.
To have such a statement added to your criminal record, you must submit a complete set of fingerprints, taken by a law enforcement agency on an “Applicant Fingerprint Card.” Click here for further instructions.

Need More Information or Have Questions?

Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Restoration of Rights Division

P.O. Box 2454, Richmond, VA 23218

(804) 692-0104 or 1-855-575-9177

Virginia Voter Restoration Project

ACLU of Virginia, 701 E. Franklin St., Ste. 1412, Richmond, VA 23219

Learn more about felon disfranchisement in the United States: National ACLU
Get Informed: Briefing Paper on Felon Disenfranchisement in Virginia

In all states, it’s a felony to vote if your voting rights are currently revoked. If you are uncertain about your status from the information provided on this page, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE for more information.

Misdemeanor convictions in Virginia

You do not lose the right to vote if you are convicted of a misdemeanor in Virginia. If you are incarcerated for a misdemeanor you should check voter registration status, register to vote if necessary, and request an absentee ballot from your Local Election Office.

You can vote while awaiting trial for any charge, even if incarcerated, as long as you have not lost your right to vote due to a prior conviction.

Felony convictions in Virginia

You permanently lose your right to vote if you are convicted of a felony. You can’t vote while incarcerated, while on probation, or while on parole. Your right to vote can only be restored by the Governor. However, this process is effectively automatic for anyone who has been released from prison. This is subject to change under future Governors, this page will be updated as needed.

Next steps for restoring voting rights in Virginia

If your sentence is completed, you should check your pardon status, apply to the Governor for a pardon if necessary, then you may register to vote and cast a ballot, even if you are on parole or probation.

Helpful U.S. Vote Foundation Resources

Registering to vote

Requesting an absentee ballot

Requesting a mail-in ballot

Click here for help with finding your Election Official.

Restoration of Voting Rights in Virginia

for Citizens with Prior Felonies

How to restore voting rights in virginia

General Information

If you have been convicted of a felony,

you have lost your right to vote in Virginia.

Restoration of civil rights allows you to:

Register to vote

Hold public office

Serve on a jury

Serve as a notary public

Restoration does not:

Restore the right to possess a firearm

Expunge (erase) a criminal conviction

Restoration is not a pardon.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth gives priority consideration to persons who request that their rights be restored, but also identifies persons who may be eligible.

Applications must be complete in order to be considered.

Applicants will undergo a criminal history check.

If you have completed your sentence for a felony conviction and have been released from any term of incarceration, and / or supervision, probation, or parole, your rights may be restored by submitting an application to the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

The sitting Governor has sole discretion to decide whether or not to restore your rights.

Virginia Felon Voting Rights Restoration Amendment
Election date
November 8, 2022
Topic
Suffrage
Status
Not on the ballot
Type
Constitutional amendment
Origin
State legislature

The Virginia Felon Voting Rights Restoration Amendment is not on the ballot in Virginia as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on November 8, 2022.

The ballot measure would amend the Virginia Constitution to restore voting rights to persons convicted of a felony after they have completed their sentence. Currently, the governor has the sole authority to restore voting rights regardless of whether a felon has completed their sentence. [1]

Contents

  • 1 Text of measure
    • 1.1 Full text
  • 2 Path to the ballot
    • 2.1 2020-2021 legislative session
    • 2.2 2022-2023 legislative session
  • 3 See also
  • 4 External links
  • 5 Footnotes

Text of measure

Full text

The full text is available here.

Path to the ballot

In Virginia, a constitutional amendment needs to be passed by a simple majority vote in both chambers of the state legislature over two consecutive legislative sessions to be certified for the ballot.

2020-2021 legislative session

The Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia State Senate each introduced and passed two versions of an amendment that would restore voting rights for felons—House Joint Resolution 555 (HJR 555) and Senate Joint Resolution (SJR 272). After a conference committee, the Senate voted 21-18 and the House voted 56-40 to approve a substitute version. [1] [2]

Vote in the Virginia House of Delegates
February 27, 2021
Requirement: Simple majority vote of all members in each chamber in two sessions
Number of yes votes required: 51 a
Yes No Not voting
Total 56 40 4
Total percent 56.00% 40.00% 4.00%
Democrat 54 0 1
Republican 2 40 3

2022-2023 legislative session

Legislators needed to approve the constitutional amendment again during the 2022-2023 legislative session before the proposal could appear on the ballot.

On February 15, 2022, the state Senate voted 24-16 to approve the amendment, which was introduced in the 2022 session as Senate Joint Resolution 1. All Democrats and three Republicans voted in favor of it, and 16 Republicans voted against it. [3]

In the 2021 elections, the partisan control of the House changed from a 55-45 Democratic majority to a 52-48 Republican majority.

On March 1, 2022, a House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee voted down the constitutional amendment, preventing it from moving forward. The vote was 6-4, with Republicans opposed and Democrats in support.

How to restore voting rights in virginia

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Tuesday that he has restored the voting rights of 69,000 people convicted of felonies under a policy change that speeds up the process, no longer requiring former prisoners to go through lengthy probations before qualifying to seek restoration.

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Virginia is one of a handful of states that permanently disenfranchise all those convicted of felonies unless they have their rights restored by the governor, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Felons never lose their right to vote in D.C.; Maryland automatically restores voting rights when a felon completes his or her sentence, although a conviction for vote-buying requires action by the governor.

This year, Virginia’s General Assembly gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights for felons as soon as they complete their incarceration. That measure would have to be approved by the legislature again next year and then put to the voters in a referendum before going into effect.

In the meantime, Northam said he was taking a cue from that proposal and changing the timing of his process, reviewing rights as soon as someone is freed.

“Probationary periods can last for years,” Northam said in prepared remarks as he announced the change at a Richmond nonprofit. “But that’s also time in which a person is living in the community, rebuilding their lives. They should be able to exercise those civil rights, even if they are still under supervision.”

The move is part of a broad effort by Northam and Democrats who control the General Assembly to expand access to voting, even as Republican lawmakers across the country push in the opposite direction.

This year, the General Assembly passed measures to permanently expand absentee voting and became the first state in the former Confederacy to approve a Voting Rights Act that enshrines protections for minority voters and makes it harder to change access to polling places. Northam is expected to sign the measures into law.

Northam already signed a measure moving local elections to November from May in an effort to boost turnout for local races.

Felons lose a host of civil rights in Virginia in addition to the vote, including the right to run for office, serve on a jury, be a notary or own a firearm. A governor can restore all but the firearms right, which a felon must apply separately to have restored.

Republican governor Robert F. McDonnell kicked off the modern effort to restore rights for nonviolent ex-felons, intervening in several thousand cases before leaving office in 2014. But his successor, Terry McAuliffe (D), took the matter to a different level.

McAuliffe issued an executive order that would have automatically restored voting rights to hundreds of thousands of former prisoners. Republicans challenged him in court, and the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that he could only restore rights in individual cases, not en masse.

So McAuliffe began a process that eventually restored voting and other civil rights to about 173,000 felons once they had served their sentences and completed a period of community supervision, or probation.

When Northam decided this year to hasten the process, his advisers identified 69,045 individuals who were eligible for restoration. The addition of those people, announced Tuesday, brings Northam’s total so far to more than 111,000 felons whose rights have been restored.

“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” Sara Dimick, executive director of OAR of Richmond, a nonprofit organization that helps formerly incarcerated people reenter society, said in a news release from the Northam administration.

Northam said he hopes that the constitutional amendment ­passes to make the criminal justice system more fair. “We must change it so we can get closer to being a state where people can move beyond their mistakes, and where justice is our priority,” he said.

By: Graham Moomaw – February 8, 2022 7:46 am

How to restore voting rights in virginia

Election official with voting stickers at Robious Elementary School in Midlothian, Va., November 5, 2019. (Parker Michels-Boyce/Virginia Mercury)

A Republican-led House of Delegates committee voted Tuesday to block a pending constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to felons once they regain their freedom.

If it holds, the decision will prevent Virginia voters from weighing in on the issue in a ballot referendum this fall, a major setback for voting-rights advocates who have spent years pushing to end Virginia’s lifetime disenfranchisement policy for people convicted of felonies, which falls disproportionately on Black communities.

Some Republicans and conservative groups supported the proposal, which had passed the General Assembly last year under Democratic control and needed to pass again in order to go to voters. But its opponents won out an early-morning subcommittee meeting, where it was defeated on a 5-4, party-line vote.

That vote came despite support from a diverse coalition that included the American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity Virginia, the ACLU of Virginia, the Legal Aid Justice Center, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Virginia Catholic Conference and the Virginia NAACP. No one spoke in opposition.

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, one of the amendment’s sponsors, said the vote appears to be the end of the line for the amendment for the immediate future.

“It’s extremely disappointing when you see this support that’s across the political spectrum,” Herring said. “For a lot of people it’s a question of faith and just forgiveness.”

The subcommittee did not take up a version of the proposal sponsored by Del. Mike Cherry, R-Colonial Heights, who had argued it fit squarely within the GOP’s purported defense of constitutional rights. Republicans in charge of the panel only heard the version sponsored by Herring, avoiding having to vote to kill the amendment sponsored by one of their own members.

The subcommittee was unswayed by conservative testimony in favor of the amendment.

“’We want to reintegrate people that have served their time that may have kids in school, that may be productive members of society, but can’t have a voice,” said Kaitlin Owens, deputy director of advocacy at the American Conservative Union’s Nolan Center for Justice. “This is a way we can do that.”

During the hearing, the five Republicans who voted the amendment down offered little rationale for their position beyond the fact it wouldn’t require people with felonies to pay all restitution and fees before regaining their voting rights.

“So none of that is included,” Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt, the subcommittee’s chairman, said while questioning Herring. “Very good.”

Head declined to elaborate on his position when approached by a reporter after the vote, saying he had to get to another meeting and had said all he wished to say.

The Democratic-controlled state Senate can send over its version of the proposal for another vote in the House. But it’s unclear if the outcome in the subcommittee would be any different the second time.

The apparent failure of the effort to change the felon disenfranchisement policy in the state Constitution means ex-offenders will have to rely on Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to restore their voting rights. The Youngkin administration had not wieghed in on the proposed amendment making that process automatic.

Democrats noted that the only Republican on the subcommittee who could face a competitive re-election fight, Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach, was absent for Tuesday’s meeting. Voting in her place was Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland, who chairs the House Priveleges and Elections Committee and represents a reliably red district.

In a brief interview, Ransone said she opposed the felon voting proposal because she thinks the current rights restoration system, which allows governors to be as strict or as lenient as they wish to be, works fine.

“We have a process and place now for them to go and get their rights restored,” Ransone said.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he has restored voting rights to more than 69,000 former felons who have completed their prison sentences but are still on probation.

Northam’s move mirrors a proposed constitutional amendment recently approved by the General Assembly that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies once they serve their time and are released from prison. To take effect, the amendment must be approved by the legislature again next year and must win approval from voters in a statewide ballot referendum.

Until now, former felons who have served their sentences were not eligible to have their civil rights restored until after they completed probation. The new eligibility criteria announced by Northam means that, going forward, people convicted of felonies will become eligible to have their rights restored once they serve their prison time, although the governor’s office would still have to approve it.

In addition to being able to vote, the rights include the right to serve on a jury, run for office and become a public notary.

“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.

“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,” he said.

Under the state constitution, the governor can restore civil rights to former felons. If the constitutional amendment is approved, the restoration of rights will become automatic when a felon is released from prison.

“We are making a tweak to the eligibility criteria that makes a huge impact on these people’s lives after they have returned to their communities,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

Northam made his announcement at OAR of Richmond, a reentry services provider for former inmates as they return to society.

“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” said Sara Dimick, Executive Director of OAR of Richmond.

Virginia is one of just three states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with felony convictions, but gives the governor the discretion to restore civil rights.

Reforms over the last decade have made the restoration of rights process easier by streamlining the application, and eliminating the waiting period and a requirement to pay court costs and fees before rights can be restored. Before Tuesday’s announcement, Northam had restored civil rights to about 42,000 people. His predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, restored rights to about 173,000 people.

Some Republicans are opposed to restoring rights before inmates complete their sentences, including any probationary period.

“Democrats won’t be happy until they can do an absentee voting drive at Red Onion (State Prison),” said Jeff Ryer, press secretary for the Senate Republican Caucus.

How to restore voting rights in virginia

“We are a Commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. Steve Helber/AP hide caption

“We are a Commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement.

Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced an executive action on Tuesday that allows tens of thousands of felons to recover their voting and other civil rights upon release from prison.

The move applies immediately to an estimated 69,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences, including ex-convicts who remain on supervision. And it comes as the state prepares for gubernatorial and legislative elections on June 8.

“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 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,” he added.

Politics

Virginia Is Poised To Approve Its Own Voting Rights Act

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. The state constitution gives the governor sole discretion to restore civil rights, with the exception of firearms rights.

Prior to the executive action, only former inmates who had finished serving “active supervision,” including probation or parole, were eligible to have their voting rights restored. Now, eligible people can apply to get those rights restored.

As NPR member station VPM reported:

“The Virginia General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment last month that would automatically restore the voting rights of people who served out their jail or prison sentence. But in order to amend the constitution, lawmakers have to approve the measure again during the next general assembly session and put it before voters in a referendum.”

Northam’s office touted the action as the latest bipartisan move to restore civil rights over the last decade. That includes 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,” the statement reads.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced an executive action that restores the right to vote to all Virginians when they leave prison, even if they remain on community supervision. This week’s action immediately restores the rights of about 69,000 people, and the governor said it will apply going forward to all Virginians upon release from incarceration.

This change mirrors a proposed Constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the civil rights of any person when they have completed their prison sentence. The amendment was approved during the 2021 General Assembly session and has to be passed again by the General Assembly in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.

It would represent a major shift in Virginia law, which has disenfranchised all people with felony convictions since the Civil War. Restrictions on voting rights were expanded in 1902 and poll taxes and literacy tests were introduced.

As one state senator put it at that time, these measures were designed to “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State” and ensure “the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”

Race, Voting, and a Gaping Loophole: A Critical Look at the 14th Amendment

Millions of Americans are barred from voting because of criminal convictions in their past.

Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia permanently 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 three states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony convictions.

“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Gov. 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.”

How to restore voting rights in virginia

Virginia law grants the governor authority to restore voting rights, but past efforts by governors to exercise that authority have been challenged by lawmakers and hampered by state courts.

In 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 people who were convicted of felonies, served their sentences, and completed probation or parole. After more than 9,000 people registered to vote pursuant to the order, state lawmakers sued, arguing that the order exceeded the governor’s authority.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of state legislators, holding that the state constitution requires the governor to decide whether to restore voting rights on a case-by-case basis. The court invalidated the executive order and ordered the Department of Elections to “delete from the record of registered voters the name of any voter who . . . has been convicted of a felony.”

Gov. McAuliffe responded by announcing a process for issuing restoration orders on an individual basis to Virginians who had completed their sentences, including any period of probation or parole. This week’s action by Gov. Northam expands rights restoration to include people who are on probation or parole.

Gov. Northam said in a statement that, with this week’s action, he has restored civil rights to more than 111,000 people during his term.

Felon voting rights remains an ongoing issue in Virginia. The League of Women Voters of Virginia has been very active in efforts to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences and returned to society.

Felony Convictions & the Right to Vote. A New Brochure from LWV Lynchburg

Special thanks to Molly McClennon for making sure this was made available to all.

LWV-VA and the Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

Lois Page, Co-President. How to restore voting rights in virginiaThe recent initiative by Gov. McAuliffe to grant voting rights to a large number of ex-offenders has raised a number of questions from Virginia Leaguers. Because this has now become mired in partisan politics, with one party threatening to bring a lawsuit challenging the governors’ right to do this, some Leaguers have become concerned about taking an active role However the League’s commitment to the principles involved in this action did not start with this initiative. LWVUS’s position on voting reads as follows: “…voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.” More specifically, embedded in “Positions for Action in Brief,” the statement of LWV-VA’s adoptedpositions, is the following: Read More

Analysis: Virginians Whose Voting Rights Have Been Restored Overwhelmingly Nonviolent, Completed Sentences More Than A Decade Ago

Today (5/11/16) Governor Terry McAuliffe released a statistical analysis of demographic and other characteristics of the population of former Virginia felons whose rights the Governor restored with his historic April 22nd order.The analysis reveals that the average time since release and completion of parole or probation is 11.1 years. The average age of this population is 45.9 years. Previous to his April 22nd order, Governor McAuliffe offered immediate restoration of rights to nonviolent felons and imposed a 3-year waiting period on any violent felons. According to this analysis, 93.4% of individuals covered by the April 22nd order would have been qualified before that date.

Governor McAuliffe Restores Voting and Civil Rights to Over 200,000 Virginians

RICHMOND + Governor Terry McAuliffe today restored the voting and civil rights of more than 200,000 Virginians who were convicted of felonies, served their time and completed any supervised release, parole or probation requirements. Each of those Virginians will immediately regain the right to register to vote, to run for office, to serve on a jury and to serve as a notary public.”Throughout my administration my team and I have operated on a simple principle: Virginians who have served their time and reentered society should do so as full citizens of our Commonwealth and country,” said Governor McAuliffe. “Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy. Today we are reversing that disturbing trend and restoring the rights of more than 200,000 of our fellow Virginians who work, raise families and pay taxes in every corner of our Commonwealth.”

The Governor implemented his action by signing an order restoring the rights of every Virginia felon who completed his or her sentence and all other requirements as of April 22nd, 2016. The total number of Virginians impacted by the Governor’s order today is 206,000. He also instructed the Secretary of the Commonwealth to prepare a similar order monthly in order to restore the rights of individuals who complete their sentences in the future. Click Here for more information.

[Ed. Note: “League and its coalition partners are studying ways to register these newly enfranchised Virginians”]

WELCOME CHANGES TO RESTORATION OF RIGHTS PROCESS ANNOUNCED

On June 23, 2015, Governor McAuliffe announced two changes to the restoration of rights process, representing the latest steps in pursuit of his priority to ensure all Virginians have the opportunity to exercise their voting and civil rights.Under the new reform, outstanding court costs and fees will no longer prohibit an individual from having his or her rights restored. McAuliffe said, “These men and women will still be required to pay their costs and fees, but their court debts will no longer serve as a financial barrier to voting, just as poll taxes did for so any years in Virginia.”

Additionally individuals who have their rights restored will now have the option to include a notation in their criminal record designating that their rights have been restored.

Previously on April 21st, 2014, McAuliffe moved all drug-related offenses into the non-violent category, reduced the waiting period for more serious offenders from five to three years and published a list of the offenses that require this waiting period. For less serious (non-violent) offenders there is no waiting period.

In December2014, he shortened the application for Serious Offenders from 13 pages to just one page and removed burdensome requirements such as notarization and letters to the governor.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced yesterday that he is restoring the voting rights of over 69,000 Virginians. The change updates the current eligibility criteria for formerly incarcerated citizens to have their voting rights restored by the governor, speeding up the process so that “any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision.”

The move follows the Virginia 2021 General Assembly’s approval of a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated upon their release. However, the amendment must pass the General Assembly once again in 2022 and then be approved by voters in a 2022 referendum. Currently, only the Virginia governor can restore these civil rights — Northam’s move on Tuesday re-enfranchised 69,000 Virginians under this authority. Although the next governor would have the ability to overturn his action, the pending constitutional amendment, if passed, would make this restoration of voting rights automatic and permanent, regardless of the governor in power.

Related Links

  • Arizona Legislature Passes Bill Streamlining Rights Restoration After Felony Convictions
  • Mississippi Governor Vetoes Bill Easing Strict Felony Disenfranchisement Law
  • Florida Enacts Law Creating Special Election Force and New Voting Restrictions
  • Florida Governor Proposes Special Force to Monitor Elections
  • South Carolina Senate Passes Bill Expanding Early Voting

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Despite pressure from voting rights activists, five Georgia-based corporations are refusing to stand against Republican voter suppression efforts in the Peach State.

Brief Available Here: http://www.fsaproject.wpengine.com/VAAmicusBrief

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, New Virginia Majority and the national civil rights and racial justice organization, Advancement Project, filed an amicus brief in Howell v. McAuliffe, a lawsuit regarding the restoration of voting rights in Virginia. On April 22, Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that restored the voting rights of the Commonwealth’s residents who had completed their sentences for felony convictions. On May 23, Republican members of the Virginia General Assembly filed a legal challenge to the governor’s authority to restore these rights. The brief supports the constitutionality of the governor’s action and provides context for the racial dynamics involved in this case.

“Restoring the right to vote for people who have repaid their debt to society was a logical, legally-sound step taken by Governor McAuliffe,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority. “More so, it was an affirmation of our democratic values – making the Commonwealth and our political system more open, accessible and representative. We are pleased to help support these claims to the court.”

Virginia previously had one of the harshest disenfranchisement laws in the nation. The original purpose of the law was plainly stated by Delegate Carter Glass at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1902. “This plan,” Carter Glass said, “will eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this state in less than five years, so that in no single county…will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.” Until Governor McAuliffe used his authority to address this, the modern version of the law continued to make it disproportionately harder for people of color to participate in Virginia elections.

“Denying voting rights to people with prior felony convictions was an explicit scheme to eradicate Black voters from Virginia’s electorate,” said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project’s national office. “The idea of now taking away the right to vote for the more than 206,000 Virginians who regained voting rights under Governor McAuliffe’s proclamation would be extremely problematic, especially for African-American voters. Rescinding this right to vote from citizens properly registered under the law would likely constitute a purge, which would be illegal.”

“This has been a long process,” said Terry Garrett, a formerly incarcerated individual whose rights were restored by the Governor’s executive order. “I paid my fines, did my time, got off probation and parole for five years before I applied and was still rejected twice. Then, I heard about what Governor McAuliffe did. I realized my rights had been restored. I was devastated and excited at the same time because I felt like somebody believes in us. I felt like a citizen again. I’ve been in Alexandria all my life but never felt like I was a part of the community. Now I have a voice too. I did make some mistakes that I regret but it is challenging every day to hear about what you did so many years ago and still have it affecting your life today. I’m just grateful to have my rights back and I would do everything in my power to keep them.”

“When I found out that I was eligible to vote, I was elated because I am a taxpaying, law-abiding citizens and I should have the right to dictate who represents me,” said Richie Cannady. “When I found out that there was a challenge to my right to vote, I thought it was really sad and shameful. Being able to vote is an important part of being American.”

“I was overwhelmed with tears when I found out that I could register,” said Louise Benjamin. “I felt like I could finally get my life back on track and be somebody.”

“When I found out I had my right to vote restored, I was grateful because I wanted to have the same opportunities that others do,” said Viola Marie Brooks. “When I found out about the challenge to my right to vote, I thought it was wrong. I made a mistake and I paid for it, and I am a changed person.”

In addition to supporting the governor’s constitutional authority to restore voting rights, the brief submitted yesterday addresses holes in the legal theory and evidence petitioners have provided to support their claims against McAuliffe’s action. Importantly, the brief also highlights the emotional process of having one’s rights restored through personal narratives – underscoring the unfairness of once again depriving newly eligible voters of their right to the ballot. According to The Sentencing Project, more than seven percent of Virginia’s adult population was disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. Moreover, one in five African-Americans in Virginia had been disenfranchised due to a felony conviction in recent years.

“The restoration of voting rights is deeply personal for the 206,000 people whose voices have just been welcomed back into our democracy,” said Advancement Project Managing Director and General Counsel Edward A. Hailes, Jr. “It is deeply personal, too, for all who believe in the values of a just, fair and inclusive democracy.”

The full brief can be viewed here. A special hearing on the case will take place on July 19, 2016. For more information or requests for interviews, please contact Jennifer Farmer at [email protected] .

Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.

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Contact: Nidya Sarria-King, Deputy Director of Communications

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Recent reforms in Virginia have made it far easier for voters to cast a ballot, but some residents with prior felony convictions will still be excluded this election cycle.

“It should say something that the Department of Elections has put out a 25-page document of all the changes that came out this legislative session,” said Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

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During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers nixed the requirement that voters have to have a qualified excuse to vote absentee; no excuses are needed now. Virginia also repealed the requirement that voters present a photo ID, and the state now automatically registers residents to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The changes have perhaps resulted in a surge in early voting. Virginia voters have returned the second highest number of absentee and mail-in ballots in the country so far, second only to Florida.

Virginia used to be ranked as one of the most difficult states to cast a ballot in, but that’s likely changed after the most recent legislative session.

“Historically, we’ve been awful,” especially to voters of color, Glass said.

Here’s a look at some of the most significant barriers to voting rights and access in the state:

About this series

Stateline and the Center for Public Integrity are exploring how changes to polling places and other election shifts affect Americans’ ability to vote. Stateline is an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Go to vote.org for information on how to vote in 2020.

Felony disenfranchisement

Residents who have been convicted of felonies are still permanently barred from voting in Virginia — unless the governor signs off to restore their rights once they’re no longer under supervision. That law is baked into the state’s constitution, and Glass said changing it would require a lengthy, complicated process and voter approval.

Virginia is one of just three states that permanently disenfranchises people with felonies.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, tried to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 formerly incarcerated people with felonies through an executive order in 2016, but courts blocked the order. McAuliffe then signed off on about 173,000 individual restoration orders in his term, which the state’s constitution permits. His successor, Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has restored voting rights for tens of thousands more people.

Voter registration deadlines

Some states allow residents to register to vote the day of the election — but Virginia is not one of them.

Residents must register at least 21 days before the election in order to be eligible to vote.

“The longer someone has to think about the election before participating, the worse it affects turnout,” Glass said.

Virginia’s deadline to register is Oct. 13.

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by admin, Center for Public Integrity
October 9, 2020

One of the consequences of a felony conviction in Virginia is the prohibition against gun ownership, regardless of how long ago the conviction occurred or when the sentence was completed. The process of restoring the right to legally possess firearms was a two step process with possible rejections at both stages.

A recent change in Virginia legislation, which has restored voting rights, after a felony conviction, could have an impact on your ability to legally own guns. Therefore, if your felony conviction has barred you from gun ownership, contact an experienced Virginia gun rights restoration attorney that will work for you to regain your right to keep and bear arms.

Voting Rights Restoration

A recent executive order, by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, has restored voting rights for a significant number of Virginia residents that were convicted of felonies, but have served their time and are no longer on probation or parole. This order impacts more than 200,000 Virginians.

Even if the executive order is subsequently overturned, those who currently meet the requirements will retain the right to vote and any other rights that are regained. Further, while he remains in office, Gov. McAuliffe has promised to issue monthly executive orders so that the restoration of rights order remains applicable for those that meet the requirements to have their voting rights restored.

Restoration Process

In Virginia, a felony conviction automatically disqualifies the convicted from legally possessing a firearm. Virginia Code §18.2-308.2 sets forth the rules for gun ownership after a felony conviction and the steps necessary to regain those rights. To regain gun ownership rights, an individual or their Virginia gun rights restoration lawyer in had to petition the governor, by filing an application with the governor’s office to restore their civil rights. Those rights included the right to vote and run for political office, as long as the requirements to apply for restoration were met.

If restoration of civil rights was approved, the individual is required to file a petition in court, in the county that the individual lives in, to restore their gun ownership rights. It was not uncommon, once the petition was filed, for the state to oppose the restoration of gun ownership rights. It is the judge’s decision whether or not the petition will be approved, but there is no uniform standard for this.

Recent Changes

The Commonwealth of Virginia specifies that “[t]he Governor’s proclamation only restores civil rights (the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, and become a notary public.) Pursuant to §18.2-308.2 C, individuals may petition the Circuit court in the jurisdiction where they reside for a permit to possess, ship, or transport a firearm.” While the governor’s executive order does not automatically restore gun ownership rights, it has removed the first barrier to you regaining gun ownership rights.

If you were awaiting a decision on the restoration of your civil rights or want to have your gun ownership rights restored, seek the services of an experienced Virginia gun rights restoration attorney for an evaluation of your case.

Former and possibly future Gov. Terry McAuliffe says he holds the national record for restoring voting rights to people who have finished felony prison sentences.

“I restored felons’ rights – 173,000 – more than any governor in the history of America,” he said during an April 6 debate between the five candidates in the June 8 Democratic primary election for governor.

When a candidate claims a record, our ears perk up. We fact checked McAuliffe’s statement.

McAuliffe was governor from 2014 to 2018. He stepped down because Virginia is the only state that doesn’t allow its governor to serve successive terms.

McAuliffe’s numbers

On April 22, 2016, McAuliffe issued a blanket executive order enabling 206,000 Virginia people who served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. He said people who had completed their punishment deserved redemption. McAuliffe stressed that many of the eligible people were African Americans and said the ban on former felons voting was a remnant of Virginia’s racist history of keeping Black citizens from the polls.

The action was heralded by civil rights advocates. Marc Mauer, then executive director of The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice advocacy group, called the order “the single most significant action on disenfranchisement that we’ve ever seen from a governor.”

Republican legislative leaders said McAuliffe’s action was a ruse to maximize likely Democratic voters during a presidential election year and filed suit, arguing the governor had exceeded his power. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed, ruling on a 4-3 vote that McAuliffe lacked the authority to issue the blanket order. The court said the governor could grant voting rights to ex felons only on an individual basis.

And that’s what McAuliffe did. His administration streamlined its review process, checking only if people had completed their sentences, parole or probation, then sending each a letter with an image of the governor’s signature, saying he or she could register to vote.

By the end of his term, McAuliffe had restored voting rights to 173,166 people, according to the Secretary of Commonwealth’s office. That’s almost five times more than the total for the 19 governors who preceded him, back to 1938.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) restored the voting rights of 69,000 former felons on Tuesday through executive action, the governor’s office announced in a statement.

Why it matters: Northam’s move to expand voting rights comes amidst a wider push across the country to restrict voting rights. As of mid-February, 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills that include voting restrictions, according to CNN.

  • Last year, Florida introduced new rules to limit some ex-felons’ voting rights, even after the state voted to restore voting rights to former convicts in 2018.

The big picture: Northam also reformed Virginia’s restoration of rights process using new eligibility criteria similar to those proposed in a possible amendment to the state’s constitution. In the future, any citizen will qualify to have their civil rights restored to them upon completing their prison term, “even if they remain on community supervision.”

  • Current laws in Virginia state that “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,” the statement notes.
  • The law also gives the governor the sole discretion to restore such rights.

What they’re saying: “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 the statement.

  • “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,” he added.

What’s next: Earlier this year the state’s General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore a person’s civil rights upon the completion of their prison sentence.

  • The amendment must be passed again by the GA in 2022 before moving to a voter referendum.

March 16, 2021, 12:00 PM

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Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he’s taking executive action to restore voting and other civil rights to former felons as soon as they complete their prison terms — a move that will immediately apply to more than 69,000 formerly incarcerated Virginians.

Northam’s action, shared first with CNN, is the latest push to expand the franchise to ex-convicts in the state, and comes just months before Virginia’s gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

It also occurs in the middle of a battle around the country over who has the right to vote. Republican-controlled legislatures are moving to clamp down on access to the ballot. As of February 19, lawmakers in 43 states had introduced more than 250 bills that included voting restrictions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. Arizona and Georgia — two traditionally Republican states that backed President Joe Biden last fall — have led the way in pushing new restrictions.

Removing obstacles to voting for former felons has been the subject of partisan warfare in some states because of the perception that this cohort of voters is more likely to support Democratic candidates.

Under current law in Virginia, anyone convicted of a felony loses an array of civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on juries or run for public office. The state Constitution gives the governor the sole power to restore most of those civil rights.

Previously, the state’s policy required former felons to finish serving “active supervision,” including probation or parole, before they were eligible to have their rights restored by the governor. Northam’s move means Virginians who have been released from prison but still remain on probation or parole now are eligible to vote.

On Tuesday, Northam said it’s unfair to deprive former felons of their rights once they have served their time.

“Probationary periods can last for years. But that’s also time in which a person is living in the community, rebuilding their lives,” he added. “They should be able to exercise those civil rights, even if they are still under supervision.”

“Letting these folks vote or exercise other civil rights isn’t a threat to public safety,” he said. “We’re a Commonwealth that believes in second chances. And we believe in forgiveness. We want people to move forward — not be tied down by the mistakes of their past.”

State officials, in anticipation of the announcement, reviewed Department of Corrections records to identify the former felons who meet the new criteria, and Northam will restore the rights of 69,045 people Tuesday, said Kelly Thomasson, Virginia’s secretary of the commonwealth.

“We’re making a kind of a technical change that has a big impact,” Thomasson told CNN in an interview Tuesday morning. “You don’t deserve to permanently have these rights stripped away because of a mistake you made. It’s about treating people equally and fairly.”

Thomasson did not have demographic data for the more than 69,000 Virginians whose rights were being restored Tuesday.

Nationally, nearly 5.2 million Americans cannot vote because of a felony conviction, according to The Sentencing Project. The barrier particularly affects African Americans: One out of 16 Black people of voting age are barred from the ballot box because of felony disenfranchisement laws, nearly four times the rate of non-Black Americans, the group’s data show.

Northam’s actions are the latest in a series in Virginia to expand the franchise. With Tuesday’s announcement, Northam said he has restored voting rights for more than 111,000 people during his time in office. The governor is term limited and is not on the ballot in Virginia this fall.

His predecessor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has counted his push to individual restore voting rights to more than 156,000 Virginians among his “proudest achievements” as governor. McAuliffe, a Democrat, is seeking to reclaim the governorship in this year’s election.

The state’s General Assembly this year took the first step toward changing the state’s Constitution to make the restoration of voting rights automatic as soon as felons complete their prison terms. The measure now must go to a newly elected state legislature next year and win voter approval in a referendum before it becomes permanent.

Thomasson said it’s hard to predict how many other Virginians will be affected by the change announced Tuesday but said she expected the governor to restore voting rights on a rolling basis as more people complete their prison terms or reach out to state officials.

Virginia is one of a handful of states that still require a governor to act to restore voting rights. In 18 states, felons received automatic restoration of voting rights as soon as they are released from prison, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

VCU CNS | February 23, 2022

A proposed constitutional amendment making headway in the Virginia General Assembly would grant former felons the right to vote.

Senate Bill 21, introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, also removes a prohibition preventing people from voting who were declared by the court as mentally incompetent. The legislation instead prohibits people from casting ballots if they lack the capacity to understand the act of voting.

Locke also introduced SB 767, which outlines how former felons would be enabled and encouraged to vote if the proposed constitutional amendment passes. The Senate passed both measures.

To amend the Virginia constitution, lawmakers need to pass the legislation by majority vote for two consecutive years and then voters would decide in November through a referendum. Lawmakers passed the proposed constitutional amendment last year.

Virginians with past felony convictions are barred from voting in elections unless the governor or another appropriate authority restores their rights. Sheba Williams couldn’t vote for years after being convicted of a felony. She is now the founder and executive director of Nolef Turns, a Richmond-based criminal justice advocacy group.

Williams said she lost her right to vote for nine years due to a wrongful embezzlement conviction. Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell reinstated her voting rights in 2013.

“Our group does restoration rights and voter registration for thousands of Virginians who lose their rights and come back and have to get it reinstated by the governor’s office,” Williams said.

The advocacy group’s Right to Vote Campaign is a nearly three-year initiative to amend the Virginia Constitution and not disqualify voters over past convictions.

More than 5 million former felons – and some people with misdemeanors – who completed their sentences can’t vote, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Voter disenfranchisement is one of the issues that is broken in the criminal legal system, said Brad Haywood, executive director of advocacy group Justice Forward Virginia.

“If you see the world as we do, and you believe that the criminal justice system disenfranchisement of the institution of slavery, the disenfranchisement of people who commit certain crimes obviously fits within that paradigm,” Haywood said.

Haywood works as a public defender in Northern Virginia and has represented over 3,000 individuals with felony cases.

“We also know the message it sends to people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, and they’re basically being told that ‘you don’t matter anymore,’” Haywood said. “You’re not part of this participatory democracy we claim to have.”

Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights in 2016 to about 200,000 felons through a blanket executive order. The Virginia Supreme Court eventually ruled that McAuliffe’s executive order was unconstitutional. The court found that restoring voting rights would need to be on a case-by-case basis.

There are over 250,000 Virginians barred from the ballot box due to a previous conviction, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Both measures have advanced to the House but have not been assigned a committee.

The laws would take effect on Jan.1, 2023, if voters pass the proposed referendum.

Written by Safia Abdulahi, Capital News Service. Photo by Megan Lee with VCU CNS.

In Virginia, any person convicted of a felony automatically loses certain civil rights, including the right to vote, run for and hold public office, serve on a jury, and serve as a notary public*. Luckily for those Virginians who have completed their sentences and seeking a second chance in their communities, civil rights restoration is possible. Recent government policies have made the process easier than ever.

How to restore voting rights in virginia

The Constitution of Virginia gives the Governor the sole authority and discretion to restore civil rights lost due to a felony conviction. On August 22, 2016, Governor McAuliffe enacted a new Restoration of Rights Policy to facilitate the restoration of these rights to vote, run for and hold public office, serve on a jury, and serve as a notary public. Ralph Northam continued this effort, and the Secretary of the Commonwealth restored rights to over 22,000 Virginians.

Anyone previously convicted of a felony is eligible for this civil rights restoration as long as he or she is no longer incarcerated and not under active supervision, including supervised probation or parole. As part of the Governor’s mission to provide equal access to all citizens, this process is free, and hiring an attorney is unnecessary.

In fact, because the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office works with other state agencies to proactively identify and restore rights to qualified individuals, many people have their civil rights restored without ever having to make the request. However, priority consideration is given to eligible individuals who reach out and initiate the process.

How to restore voting rights in virginia

If you’ve previously been convicted of a felony and are either not sure of the status of your civil rights or are interested in having your rights restored, the best place to begin is the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Restoration of Rights website. From there, you can check the status of your civil rights, request restoration if necessary, and find additional helpful information such as further details about the restoration of rights process and answers to frequently asked questions.

For any questions not answered on their website, the office for the Secretary of the Commonwealth can be reached by phone at (804) 692-0104. The average review process takes 30-60 days, and once the process is complete, the Restoration of Rights office will issue and mail you a personalized order confirming your rights have been successfully restored.

Allen & Allen is dedicated to being a resource for the community. Stay up-to-date on Virginia law by following this blog!

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How to restore voting rights in virginia

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has restored the voting rights of more than 69,000 Virginians under a new change to the state’s constitution, which automatically restores voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.

From now on any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision.

The governor’s office says this change builds on bipartisan reforms that have been made to the restoration of rights process over the past decade.

“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 civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a notary public 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.

“Restoring the rights of Virginians who have served their time makes it easier for these men and women to move forward with their lives,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

During the state’s 2021 General Assembly session, legislators approved a constitutional amendment that affirms the fundamental right to vote and automatically restores the civil rights of any individual, upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.

The constitutional amendment must be passed again by the body in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.

This comes as Virginia readies for gubernatorial and legislative elections over the next three months with primary voting on June 8.

Under Northam’s leadership, Virginia has set out to make many changes in a way that reckons with its racial past.

In 2020, Virginia eliminated the state holiday Lee-Jackson Day which honored Confederate generals replacing it with Election Day in April.

The Commonwealth also remained the leader throughout the nation in removing Confederate symbols with 71 down to date, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC].

“We must recognize states like Virginia who not only had the courage to discontinue its preservation law, but also led by example after removing 71 Confederate symbols from their public spaces in 2020,” SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks said.

In February, Virginia lawmakers signed off on making recreational marijuana legal.The same month legislators voted to repeal the death penalty due to its disproportionate impact on Black residents making it the first southern state to do so.

Northam has restored voting rights to more than 111,000 individuals since taking office.

“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” Sara Dimick, executive director of OAR of Richmond said.

“OAR is committed to removing barriers for those who seek to be contributing members of their communities, and we look forward to working with newly eligible individuals to ensure they can exercise their civil rights.”

How to restore voting rights in virginia

A. E. Dick Howard, executive director of the commission that wrote Virginia’s current constitution, and Daniel Ortiz, director of UVA Law’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, have joined forces with other law professors.

University of Virginia School of Law professor A. E. Dick Howard , principal architect of Virginia’s current constitution, Professor Daniel Ortiz and other Virginia-based law professors have filed an amicus brief in Howell v. McAuliffe , a case that challenges the restoration of voting rights to convicted felons in the state.

William J. Howell, the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, and several other petitioners are challenging, on constitutional grounds, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s order restoring the voting rights for those who have completed their sentence and parole or probation.

The June 27 friend-of-the-court filing by the professors, in coordination with the law firm Hogan Lovells, argues that both the plain language of the state constitution and the historical record support the governor’s right to “remove political disability by group.”

Article II, Section 1 of the constitution allows the governor to restore the rights, the brief states, with Article V, Section 12 giving the governor absolute power to remove political disabilities, except where constitutional language expressly prohibits. (Read the full amicus.)

Howard, who advised the governor before his rights-restoration announcement on April 22, and Ortiz, director of the UVA Law Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, are joined by two professors from the University of Richmond School of Law, Carl W. Tobias and John Paul Jones, emeritus.

“The other professors and I argue that there is solid ground in the constitution of Virginia for the governor’s order,” Howard said.

Widely acknowledged as an expert in the fields of constitutional law, comparative constitutionalism and the Supreme Court, Howard is the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. He was executive director of the commission that wrote Virginia’s current constitution and directed the successful referendum campaign for its ratification.

The professors’ amicus was facilitated by the pro bono efforts of Hogan Lovells partner Tom Connally, a 1993 graduate of UVA Law.

How to restore voting rights in virginia

Republican Governor Bob McDonnell will take a concrete step forward for voting rights Wednesday as he unveils a new plan to help nonviolent felons have their voting rights restored.

Currently, Virginia is one of only four states that do not automatically restore voting rights to felons once they’ve served their time, instead forcing felons to directly petition the Governor to have their rights restored after a two-year waiting period. Under the new McDonnell plan, the governor’s office has nixed the waiting period and will instead notify nonviolent felons in a letter that their rights have been restored once the office has verified that he or she has served all time and paid all debts owed.

The change means thousands of nonviolent felons in Virginia could get their voting rights back in time to vote in the upcoming gubernatorial election, although it still puts the onus on the Governor’s office to take action on each felon. Until now McDonnell could only take action on the applications his office had already received, a process considered too cumbersome.

“In many ways it’s the culmination of a career of effort to fix this issue in Virginia,” McDonnell’s spokesman tells the Richmond Times Dispatch.

McDonnell has been a champion of felon voting rights since before he became governor and campaigned on the issue of rights restoration.

During his term, he approved applications at a higher rate than his predecessors, restoring voting rights for nearly 5,000 former felons—including some prominent ones like Scooter Libby. Unfortunately, that heightened attention still barely made a dent in total number of former felons in Virginia who have yet to see their rights restored, estimated to be more than 350,000. In 2012, President Obama won Virginia by a margin of just over 100,000 votes.

Even under the new improved process, the administration will be able to restore rights only on an individual basis, which McDonnell’s office says is the furthest action he’s legally able to take. During his State of the Commonwealth address earlier this year he pressed lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state house to move forward with a constitutional amendment to provide a better solution for blanket restoration, but the legislation that followed his call to action ultimately failed.

Recent polling has found a majority of Virginians support restoration of voting rights for felons who’ve served their time.

“While today’s announcement represents a positive step forward, Virginia still needs a more permanent solution through a Constitutional amendment from the General Assembly to automatically restore civil rights for all citizens who have served their time,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the civil rights organization the Advancement Project. “We hope to build on this development in order to move Virginia fully toward America’s promise of a robust and inclusive democracy.”

McDonnell’s new plan will not be binding for future governors, and so the decisions of his successor—whether Republican Ken Cuccinelli or Democrat Terry McAuliffe— will matter. Cuccinelli voiced his support for an improved process Tuesday.

“I believe we need a simpler way for individuals who want to return to their place in society to be given a second chance and regain their civil rights that were lost through a felony conviction,” Cuccinelli said according to a Richmond Times Dispatch report.

McDonnell’s announcement will draw praise from many voting right activists, many of whom have taken issue with his past action on voting issues. Earlier this year McDonnell signed his second piece of legislation designed to further restrict the forms of voter ID accepted in Virginia.

Republican Governor Bob McDonnell took a concrete step forward for voting rights Wednesday as he unveiled a new plan to help nonviolent felons have their voting rights restored.

Republican Governor Bob McDonnell will take a concrete step forward for voting rights Wednesday as he unveils a new plan to help nonviolent felons have their voting rights restored.

Currently, Virginia is one of only four states that do not automatically restore voting rights to felons once they’ve served their time, instead forcing felons to directly petition the Governor to have their rights restored after a two-year waiting period. Under the new McDonnell plan, the governor’s office has nixed the waiting period and will instead notify nonviolent felons in a letter that their rights have been restored once the office has verified that he or she has served all time and paid all debts owed.

The change means thousands of nonviolent felons in Virginia could get their voting rights back in time to vote in the upcoming gubernatorial election, although it still puts the onus on the Governor’s office to take action on each felon. Until now McDonnell could only take action on the applications his office had already received, a process considered too cumbersome.

“In many ways it’s the culmination of a career of effort to fix this issue in Virginia,” McDonnell’s spokesman tells the .

McDonnell has been a champion of felon voting rights since before he became governor and campaigned on the issue of rights restoration.

During his term, he approved applications at a higher rate than his predecessors, restoring voting rights for nearly 5,000 former felons—including some prominent ones like Scooter Libby. Unfortunately, that heightened attention still barely made a dent in total number of former felons in Virginia who have yet to see their rights restored, estimated to be more than 350,000. In 2012, President Obama won Virginia by a margin of just over 100,000 votes.

Even under the new improved process, the administration will be able to restore rights only on an individual basis, which McDonnell’s office says is the furthest action he’s legally able to take. During his State of the Commonwealth address earlier this year he pressed lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state house to move forward with a constitutional amendment to provide a better solution for blanket restoration, but the legislation that followed his call to action ultimately failed.

Recent polling has found a majority of Virginians support restoration of voting rights for felons who’ve served their time.

“While today’s announcement represents a positive step forward, Virginia still needs a more permanent solution through a Constitutional amendment from the General Assembly to automatically restore civil rights for all citizens who have served their time,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the civil rights organization the Advancement Project. ”We hope to build on this development in order to move Virginia fully toward America’s promise of a robust and inclusive democracy.”

McDonnell’s new plan will not be binding for future governors, and so the decisions of his successor—whether Republican Ken Cuccinelli or Democrat Terry McAuliffe— will matter. Cuccinelli voiced his support for an improved process Tuesday.

“I believe we need a simpler way for individuals who want to return to their place in society to be given a second chance and regain their civil rights that were lost through a felony conviction,” Cuccinelli said according to a .

McDonnell’s announcement will draw praise from many voting right activists, many of whom have taken issue with his past action on voting issues. Earlier this year McDonnell signed his second piece of legislation designed to further restrict the forms of voter ID accepted in Virginia.

How to restore voting rights in virginia

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RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he has restored voting rights to more than 69,000 former felons who have completed their prison sentences but are still on probation.

Northam’s move mirrors a proposed constitutional amendment recently approved by the General Assembly that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies once they serve their time and are released from prison. To take effect, the amendment must be approved by the legislature again next year and must win approval from voters in a statewide ballot referendum.

Until now, former felons who have served their sentences were not eligible to have their civil rights restored until after they completed probation. The new eligibility criteria announced by Northam means that, going forward, people convicted of felonies will become eligible to have their rights restored once they serve their prison time, although the governor’s office would still have to approve it.

In addition to being able to vote, the rights include the right to serve on a jury, run for office and become a public notary.

“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.

“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,” he said.

Under the state constitution, the governor can restore civil rights to former felons. If the constitutional amendment is approved, the restoration of rights will become automatic when a felon is released from prison.

“We are making a tweak to the eligibility criteria that makes a huge impact on these people’s lives after they have returned to their communities,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

Northam made his announcement at OAR of Richmond, a reentry services provider for former inmates as they return to society.

“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” said Sara Dimick, Executive Director of OAR of Richmond.

Virginia is one of just three states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with felony convictions, but gives the governor the discretion to restore civil rights.

Reforms over the last decade have made the restoration of rights process easier by streamlining the application, and eliminating the waiting period and a requirement to pay court costs and fees before rights can be restored. Before Tuesday’s announcement, Northam had restored civil rights to about 42,000 people. His predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, restored rights to about 173,000 people.

Some Republicans are opposed to restoring rights before inmates complete their sentences, including any probationary period.

“Democrats won’t be happy until they can do an absentee voting drive at Red Onion (State Prison),” said Jeff Ryer, press secretary for the Senate Republican Caucus.

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Washington just enacted a new law, but other states are making progress, too.

How to restore voting rights in virginia

State Rep. Park Cannon addresses media after case dismissed by Fulton County DA

For Tarra Simmons, a representative in the Washington legislature, Wednesday was a “full-circle moment.”

After initially failing in 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee restored voting rights to more than 20,000 people with felony convictions who are out of prison, but still under community supervision.

Simmons, one of the bill’s sponsors, knows the impact of disenfranchisement firsthand. After being “born into generations of addiction and incarceration and poverty and violence,” Simmons was sentenced to prison in 2011 for selling a small amount of prescription drugs to financially fuel her own drug addiction, which she said resulted from trying to suppress the post-traumatic stress of her childhood.

She served 16 months, spent another four on work release and lost her right to vote through it all.

“Your life is just destroyed,” Simmons told ABC News, explaining the barriers people with felony convictions face trying to rejoin their communities, like finding a job, paying fines and navigating child custody battles. “I see why it sends people back to prison.”

Simmons did not go back to prison; she went to law school and became a civil rights attorney — but only after she won a unanimous opinion from the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled the state’s Bar Association could not prevent her — or anyone else — from taking the exam because of her past conviction.

She remarried seven years ago, adding a step-daughter to her family. Her youngest of two sons turned 18 on Tuesday; the older is 28. The whole family gets together for dinner at least once a week in the home they own.

“And now here I am, a freshman — only been on the job for two months — and the governor is signing my first bill,” she said.

The sweeping, nationwide effort to enact legislation with restrictive voting provisions has overshadowed an even greater endeavor to do the opposite. While lawmakers in 47 states have introduced 361 restrictive voting bills as of the end of March, proposed bills expanding voting outnumber that figure by more than twofold, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

In several states, these expansive bills tackle felony disenfranchisement, which, according to the Brennan Center, disproportionately impacts Black Americans.

“The movement that we’re seeing this year is fantastic. It’s also a part of a trend that’s been going on for a number of years now,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, the deputy director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the New York-based think tank. “We still have a long way to go, but the fact that we’re seeing all this movement . helps me think that maybe we will get where we need to go soon.”

Last month, Virginia’s governor used his executive authority to return civil rights, including voting eligibility, to people who have completed their incarceration sentence. In November, California voters approved Proposition 17, restoring voting rights to those who have completed their prison terms. In 2019, Colorado, New Jersey and Nevada enacted similar legislative reforms.

Though financial hurdles still exist, Florida voters approved an amendment in 2018 ending permanent disenfranchisement for people convicted of felonies, excluding murder and sex crimes. Kentucky and Iowa’s governors, Democrat Andy Beshear and Republican Kim Reynolds, issued executive orders in 2019 and 2020, respectively, ending most permanent felony disenfranchisement in their states as well. The District of Columbia has taken the most significant step, beginning in 2020 to restore voting rights to people still incarcerated. Just two states, Vermont and Maine, allow people in prison to vote.

“There’s a lot of momentum here, and I think it’s really a policy that lawmakers are realizing is popular with voters across the political spectrum,” Morales-Doyle told ABC News. “Everyone believes in forgiveness and second chances.”

Morales-Doyle isn’t naïve to how divisive voting issues are in the United States. Still, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC poll, a majority of Americans support allowing people with felony convictions to vote after completing their sentences and, more importantly, only 20% oppose it.

New York is expected to follow in Washington’s footsteps by codifying voting eligibility for people with felony convictions who are on parole, and a similar bill has been introduced in Connecticut.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in 2018 restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions who are on parole. However, like any executive action, it’s not permanent, and for this specific issue, governors must use their executive pardon authority, which is cumbersome and can lead to weekslong delays in restoring voting eligibility, according to Morales-Doyle.

In Virginia, the legislature is trying to amend the state constitution to permanently restore voting rights to people with felony convictions, post-incarceration. It passed both chambers this year and must again in 2022’s session before being on the ballot for voters to decide that November.

Daniel O’Donnell, who has represented a district on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the New York Assembly since 2002, has been trying to expand voting rights to people on parole in his state for the past five years. He’s driven by his experience chairing the Corrections Committee while in office and his work as a public defender before that.

He said at the core of this fight is a decadeslong misunderstanding of what community supervision, like parole, means.

“In their minds, parole means ‘get out of jail free,’ when actually what parole means is you get supervised, and people don’t realize how strict that supervision is,” O’Donnell told ABC News. “If you are successfully on parole, you’re living a very restricted life — and you’re living a very restricted, law-abiding life because even the most minor infraction could end up (with) you getting off parole.”

Like Washington state’s bill, New York’s includes a provision that requires notifying people with felony convictions that they will regain their right to vote upon release from prison and assisting them with re-registration. O’Donnell described this as an essential step in the process, since re-assimilating into society is critical to prevent people from reoffending.

“If we keep on treating people as the other, they’re going to behave like the other,” O’Donnell said. “What they need is incentives to not commit again. So the better their life is, the more they feel connected to their neighborhood, and their neighbors and their community, the less likely they are to recommit.”

How to restore voting rights in virginia

Virginians with felony convictions on their criminal records will have an easier path to having their voting rights restored thanks to reforms called for this morning by Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Under McAuliffe’s new rules, the time that people convicted of “violent” felonies must wait to apply for rights restoration will shrink from five years to three years. The list of crimes that constitute “violent felonies” in Virginia has historically included drug charges. That will change with these new reforms. All drug distribution and manufacturing crimes will be recategorized as “nonviolent” felonies, which means Virginians with these drug convictions will have no waiting period for applying for restoration. All “nonviolent” felony convictions already qualify Virginians for automatic rights restoration when they appeal directly to the governor, a policy instituted by former governor Bob McDonnell.

Finally, in case there’s still any confusion around what crimes are considered “violent” or “nonviolent” felonies, the McAuliffe administration plans to post a list on its website for clarification.

“Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

Virginia once had some of the strictest terms for restoring voting rights in the nation. A coalition of grassroots organizations led by the Virginia NAACP state conference, Advancement Project, Virginia New Majority, Virginia Organizing, Holla Back and Restore, S.O.B.E.R. House, and Bridging the Gap in Virginia have worked to make the new reforms possible.

But there is still much further to go. The civil rights organizations are pushing for automatic voting rights restoration for all people who have paid their debts to society immediately after serving their time in prison.

“While we are glad the Governor has responded to community concerns, we remain concerned about Virginia’s continued distinction between violent and non-violent offenses in the voting rights restoration process,” said Advancement Project Managing Director and General Counsel, Edward A. Hailes. “There are numerous benefits to restoring voting rights for people who have completed their sentences, including the fostering of full community integration and the fulfillment of our core democratic principles. Those benefits apply for everyone, regardless of the basis for their conviction. We encourage Virginia to join the majority of states, which do not make distinctions between different types of offenses, by passing a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights for all.”

RICHMOND, Va.—On July 1, Virginia will implement eight more voting rights expansion measures backed by the House Democrats, making voting more accessible for all eligible voters to cast their ballots, which contrasts how Republicans nation-wide have advocated for voting restrictions.

“The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy,” Virginia Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said. “Here in the Commonwealth, our Democratic Majority has taken historic steps to expand the franchise and allow Virginians to have their voices heard.”

The new Virginia House measures improve both availability and accessibility of absentee voting, expand curbside voting, and allow early voting on Sundays. Notably, the House Democratic Caucus was proud to pass the Voting Rights Act of Virginia.

“Voter suppression efforts in other states show us the importance of our efforts to ensure ballot access here in Virginia,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring, who carried HJ 555, which begins the constitutional amendment process to restore the voting rights of former felons. “As legislators, our job is to make sure citizens have their voices heard, and that happens through their vote. Restricting or removing that power is undemocratic.”

This year, Virginia House Democrats also successfully passed legislation (HB 2081) banning people other than law enforcement from possessing guns within 40 feet of polling places on an election day. The ban also applies within one hour of opening or after closing the polling place, when ballots are counted, or when a local electoral board meets after an election to ascertain results. This legislation comes after the 2020 presidential election when armed protesters gathered outside vote counting centers in Arizona to protest the apparent election results.

Around the country this year, Republican-controlled legislatures are rolling back voting rights in an effort to suppress voters after former President Donald Trump made baseless claims that election fraud caused his loss. States such as Georgia, Texas, and Florida have made national headlines for their drastic voter suppression efforts. On June 22, Republicans in the United States Senate blocked a House bill aimed at securing voting rights nationwide.

“As we’ve seen across the nation, in Republican-led state legislatures, they are repeating history and punishing Black and Brown voters for exercising their power. In Virginia, under our leadership, we know that our democracy is strongest when everyone can participate,” said Delegate Cia Price, the patron of HB 1980. “The Voting Rights Act of Virginia protects the rights of historically suppressed communities instead of attacking them.”

Last year, when Virginia House of Delegates experienced its first Democratic majority in more than 20 years, House Democrats passed sweeping voting rights legislation including creating a permanent absentee vote-by-mail option, removing the excuse requirement for absentee voting, enacting same-day voter registration, establishing Election Day as a state holiday, expanding the voter identification law to include certain non-photo IDs, making voter registration applications available at high schools and colleges, authorizing automatic voter registration, and providing voting materials for non-English-speaking citizens in localities where a language minority group includes at least 10,000 voters or five percent of the voting population.

“The House Democratic Caucus continued our priority of expanding voting access during our second year in the majority. Voters should be free from unnecessary barriers or intimidation,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan said. “The ballot box gives citizens the opportunity to shape their communities, the Commonwealth, and the country for years to come, which is why we have worked hard to uphold the rights of all voters across Virginia.”

The following measures go into effect on July 1, 2021, unless noted otherwise:

  • HJ 555 begins the two-year constitutional amendment process to restore certain civil rights — including the right to vote — for felons who have served their time. Leader Herring served as the patron.
  • HB 1810 grants the Governor authority to re-open online voter registration if the system fails prior to a pre-election registration deadline. The online system can be re-opened for the amount of time equal to the duration of the outage (rounded up to the nearest whole day) plus one additional day. Currently, the only way to extend the voter registration deadline is through a court order. This legislation was filed by Delegate Schuyler Van Valkenburg.
  • HB 1888 improves the availability and accessibility of absentee voting by requiring prepaid postage on envelopes to return absentee ballots, authorizing local electoral boards and registrars to designate drop-off locations for ballots, and allowing absentee-by-mail voters to “cure” certain errors in order to make their ballot countable. This legislation also creates procedural changes to help voters with a visual impairment or a print disability vote absentee by mail. The reforms in HB 1888 make voting easier for the voter and the registrar, amend some procedures to enhance clarity for both election officials and the public, and help place the Commonwealth on a solid legal footing. Del. Van Valkenburg carried this bill as well.
  • HB 1890, also known as the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, affirms voters’ access and ensures equity at the polls, by requiring any proposed changes to local voting laws or regulations must be (i) publicized and available for public comment by the affected communities and (ii) evaluated for adverse effects on members of protected classes before going into effect. It applies federal language access requirements to state and local elections when either 5 percent or more than 10,000 of the voting-age residents of a locality are members of a single language minority. Election and voting materials must be provided in the minority language once the threshold is met. The Voting Rights Act of Virginia strengthens protections against voter threats, intimidation, and misinformation, to ensure every voter can cast a ballot freely and safely. Either the Virginia Attorney General or affected individuals have the ability to initiate a civil action in court if these protections are violated. Del. Price served as the patron for HB 1890. This legislation goes into effect on September 1, 2021.
  • HB 1921 allows voters to vote outside the polling place if they have a disability or are injured; during a state of emergency due to a public health crisis, this extends to every voter. Signs outside of the polling place must clearly mark where the curbside voting area is located and notify voters how they can inform election officers that they are outside waiting to vote. Del. Price also introduced this bill.
  • HB 1968 permits localities to hold early voting on Sundays. This legislation was sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby.
  • HB 2125 allows any Virginia citizen who is 16 or 17 years old and otherwise eligible to vote, to be automatically added to the voter rolls on their 18th birthday. Delegate Alfonso Lopez filed HB 2125. Goes into effect on October 1, 2022.
  • HB 2198 addresses local elections for district- or ward-based offices, and mandates that if a candidate for the governing body or school board must reside in a district or ward, they must be elected by registered voters of that district or ward. Delegate Kelly Convirs Fowler patroned this measure. Goes into effect on January 1, 2022.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he has restored voting rights to more than 69,000 former felons who have completed their prison sentences but are still on probation.

Northam’s move mirrors a proposed constitutional amendment recently approved by the General Assembly that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies once they serve their time and are released from prison. To take effect, the amendment must be approved by the legislature again next year and must win approval from voters in a statewide ballot referendum.

Until now, former felons who have served their sentences were not eligible to have their civil rights restored until after they completed probation. The new eligibility criteria announced by Northam means that, going forward, people convicted of felonies will become eligible to have their rights restored once they serve their prison time, although the governor’s office would still have to approve it.

In addition to being able to vote, the rights include the right to serve on a jury, run for office and become a public notary.

“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.

“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,” he said.

Under the state constitution, the governor can restore civil rights to former felons. If the constitutional amendment is approved, the restoration of rights will become automatic when a felon is released from prison.

“We are making a tweak to the eligibility criteria that makes a huge impact on these people’s lives after they have returned to their communities,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

Northam made his announcement at OAR of Richmond, a reentry services provider for former inmates as they return to society.

“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” said Sara Dimick, Executive Director of OAR of Richmond.

Virginia is one of just three states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with felony convictions, but gives the governor the discretion to restore civil rights.

Reforms over the last decade have made the restoration of rights process easier by streamlining the application, and eliminating the waiting period and a requirement to pay court costs and fees before rights can be restored. Before Tuesday’s announcement, Northam had restored civil rights to about 42,000 people. His predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, restored rights to about 173,000 people.

Some Republicans are opposed to restoring rights before inmates complete their sentences, including any probationary period.

“Democrats won’t be happy until they can do an absentee voting drive at Red Onion (State Prison),” said Jeff Ryer, press secretary for the Senate Republican Caucus.

For nearly 50 years, the state was subject to Voting Rights Act rules meant to deter racial discrimination. Those federal guidelines are now shredded, but Virginia just recreated them on its own.

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How to restore voting rights in virginia

How to restore voting rights in virginia

ARLINGTON, Va. — Georgia has sharply limited voting access, making drop boxes less available and forbidding anyone to hand out water to voters in line. Florida and Texas are poised to advance similar legislation. Alabama’s strict voter identification law is being used as a template elsewhere.

As states across the South race to establish new voting restrictions, Virginia is bolting in the opposite direction. The Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, this week capped a multiyear liberal movement for greater ballot access by signing off on sweeping legislation to recreate pivotal elements of the federal Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in 2013.

Alone among the states of the former Confederacy, Virginia has become a voting rights bastion, increasingly encouraging its citizens — especially people of color — to exercise their democratic rights. In the last 14 months, the state’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Mr. Northam have together repealed the state’s voter ID law, enacted 45 days of no-excuse absentee voting, made Election Day a state holiday and enacted automatic voter registration for anyone who receives a Virginia driver’s license.

Virginia, which for nearly 50 years had to submit changes to its elections to the federal government for approval under the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements, has now effectively imposed the same covenants on itself, an extraordinary step for a state with a long history of segregation and racially targeted voting laws.

The new law that was approved on Wednesday, called the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, requires all local elections administrators to receive public feedback or advance approval from the state’s attorney general for changes like moving voting precincts or elections registrars’ offices, and allows voters and the attorney general to sue over voter suppression. It expressly prohibits any racial discrimination or intimidation related to voting.

“I have an aunt who marched against the poll tax. My grandparents both had to pay poll taxes,” said Marcia Price, a Democratic state delegate who sponsored the legislation. “Just knowing that they lived under a system that was unfair and unequal, I learned very early that it was wrong, and that it needs to be changed.”

Virginia’s expansion of voting protections comes at a moment when the state has ushered through a raft of progressive legislation unseen in its history. Since the 2019 election, when Democrats won majorities in the General Assembly to give the party full control of state government for the first time since 1993, Virginia has abolished the death penalty; enacted gun control measures long stymied in Washington; introduced an independent redistricting commission; raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour; and allowed local governments to remove Confederate statues, names and emblems that dot the state, which was once home to the capital of the Confederacy.

Republicans’ longtime grip on Virginia politics reached even the state’s most liberal corners. In Arlington, a Democratic stronghold across the Potomac River from Washington, a main highway stretching south from the nation’s capital was named for the Confederacy’s president, Jefferson Davis, for nearly a century until 2019. Under pressure from Mr. Northam, a state board allowed Arlington to change the name.

The state’s voting rights act is being signed into law by a governor whose career was nearly derailed by a blackface scandal in 2019. Since then, Mr. Northam has been at the forefront of a host of the state’s racial justice initiatives and has enjoyed high approval ratings. He said on Wednesday that the Virginia law should become a model for the nation.

“At a time when voting rights are under attack across our country, Virginia is expanding access to the ballot box, not restricting it,” Mr. Northam said. “Our Commonwealth is creating a model for how states can provide comprehensive voter protections that strengthen democracy and the integrity of our elections.”

Virginia’s turn away from its longtime restrictions on voting rights began in 2016, when Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to 206,000 felons in the state over the objections of the Republican-led General Assembly and the state’s Supreme Court. After the court ruled that Mr. McAuliffe did not have the authority to restore felon voting rights en masse, but could do so case by case, he sent 206,000 individual voting rights restoration letters to felons, who were sent envelopes with a Virginia voter application form and a self-addressed stamped envelope.

“To me it was a moral, civil rights issue and this was a racist Jim Crow law that needed to be eliminated,” Mr. McAuliffe said on Wednesday.

Once Democrats took full control of state government last year, one of the first bills they passed created one of the longest early-voting periods in the country — a 45-day window for no-excuse absentee voting, in which people can vote remotely without having to provide a rationale. More than 2.8 million Virginians voted early in the 2020 election, nearly five times as many as did so in 2016.

“This is what my ancestors fought hard for,” said Charniele Herring, the author of the early voting bill, who last year became the first Black majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates. “My parents had to have that struggle in the ’60s, and this is the time to stop that struggle and to protect everybody’s right to vote, no matter their political affiliation.”

Republican state legislators all opposed the Virginia Voting Rights Act, arguing that it would inundate local election administrators with lawsuits and complicate routine changes to voting. Glenn Davis, a Republican delegate from Virginia Beach who is running for lieutenant governor, said it was “simple human nature” that Democrats’ efforts to make voting easier, like eliminating Virginia’s photo identification requirement, would result in more fraud.