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Virginia's Harsh Stand on Voting Rights of Former Felons

Pat Evers | Published on 11/4/2023

Right to vote rally

Rally for Voting Rights

Virginia has many notable “firsts” in its history. But more recently we are being watched across the country for falling into the “only a few” category.
 Virginia is one of only three states whose consti­tu­tion perman­ently disen­fran­chises all citizens with past felony convic­tions, but grants the state’s governor the author­ity to restore voting rights.
Once released from incarceration, former felons regain the vote ONLY if the governor acts to restore their voting rights. The Virginia constitution gives the governor sole discretion over restoration of rights.

The League’s position is that voting rights restoration should be automatic and we have advocated for many years to make this change in our constitution.

On November 1, 2023 Joan Porte (LWV-VA President), Alice Tousignant (LWV-VA Program Director), Candi Bradshaw (LWV-VA Social Media Strategist), and Pat Evers (LWV-WA Advocacy) attended a rally/press conference at the Richmond Bell Tower organized by NoLef Turns (a volunteer group that advocates for citizens with felony convictions) to bring attention to the 3,400 Virginians with felony convictions who erroneously had their voter registrations canceled when Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration took a stricter approach to cleaning up the voter rolls.

According to state officials, the elections department had been trying to fix a problem in the voter system that prevented people who re-offended after having their rights restored from being taken off the voter rolls as they should have been.

However, the felony conviction data from the Virginia State Police that was powering those removals included not only people with felony convictions, but also the people with probation violations. It was that group that was erroneously removed. They should not have lost their voting rights.  

The Virginia Department of Elections announced state and local officials had reinstated the voter registrations of almost everyone believed to be affected by what the Youngkin administration describes as an administrative error.

Voting rights advocates at the rally aren’t so sure. Explanations coming from the governor’s representatives, as well as the numbers on how many registrations were wrongly canceled, have changed over time. Advocates are requesting an independent investigation.

Voting rights advocates and speakers at the rally included Sheba Williams, NoLef Turns; Joan Porte, LWV of Virginia; LeVar Stoney, Mayor of Richmond; Ryan Snow, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Natasha White, Interfaith Action for Human Rights; Liz White, UpVote; Shawn Wenta, Policy Strategist at ACLU of Virginia, Nick Gothard, Election Protection Manager for the Virginia Civic Engagement Table; and volunteers from Election Protection 866-OUR-VOTE.

Nathaniel Hill, a truck driver, veteran and one of the estimated 3,400 Virginians with felony convictions who erroneously had their voter registrations canceled expressed frustration about paying $3300 in taxes last year to the state that accidentally took away his right to vote.

“I paid $3,300 in taxes last year. If you can accept my tax money, then you can restore my rights. We don’t want taxation without representation… I work hard just like the next person.”

Hill’s point is well taken. Formerly convicted individuals are counted in the census, hold jobs, raise families, and contribute to their communities -- shouldn’t they have a voice in their representative government?

If you would like to join the Right to Vote issue group, contact email head of LWVVA Right to Vote Study Group, Deb Wake.

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