Virginia Extends Voting Rights To Ex-Felony Offenders

Photographed by Chandler West.
A volunteer works to register voters in Maryland, which, like Virginia, has made changes to its laws surrounding voting rights for felony offenders.
Virginia’s governor is restoring voting rights for 200,000 convicted felony offenders ahead of the November election.

Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, announced Friday that he will use an executive order to allow felons who have completed their prison sentence and parole to register to vote, The New York Times reported. The action reverses a policy that has been in place since the Civil War.

“People have served their time and done their probation,” he said. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes. I’m not giving people their gun rights back and other things like that. I’m merely allowing you to feel good about yourself again, to feel like you are a member of society.”

An estimated 5.8 million people nationwide are barred from voting because of their felony record, according to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy and research organization that supports reforms to the criminal justice system. The laws, decided on a state-by-state basis, disproportionately impact the black community: One in 13 black Americans cannot vote because of such provisions, The Sentencing Project estimates.

About 10% of former felony offenders impacted by the laws nationwide are believed to be women, Marc Mauer, the group’s executive director, told Refinery29 in an interview earlier this year.

Mauer sees restoring voting rights as an essential part of reintroducing former felony offenders into society and lowering recidivism rates.

“Successful reentry is related to getting a job, it’s related to having a place to live, but it’s also related to having a good peer network and feeling like you have a commitment to the community,” he said.

Only two states, Vermont and Maine, have no voting restrictions for felony offenders. But a number of states have moved to restore some rights in recent years. Earlier this year, Maryland’s legislature expanded voting access to an estimated 40,000 felony offenders currently on parole.

Advocates working to support rights and reentry in the state have been working to register and engage former felony offenders ahead of the state’s April 26 primary.

“The best way to empower the community is to get them engaged in the process and voting,” Perry Hopkins, a field organizer working on voter registration as part of Baltimore’s Community United, told Refinery29 earlier this month. “We don’t care who they vote for. We just want them to show up and vote.”

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