Virginia Governor announces decision to grant voting rights to 69,000 formerly-convicted felons

On Tuesday, Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D) publicized his decision to grant voting rights to some 69,000 formerly-convicted felons who were still on probation.

During a press conference in Richmond, VA, Governor Ralph Northam announced that his office is restoring the voting rights of more than 69,000 formerly-convicted felons still on probation. Additionally, the Virginia governor promoted his plan to introduce new eligibility criteria for formerly-convicted felons. He described such a plan as restoring all restricted privileges of former-convicts as soon as they’re released from prison, all without having to be taken off probation. If approved, this plan would automatically restore the privileges of former-felons, but would still require the governor’s approval.

Despite Virginia’s state constitution restricting the privileges of convicted felons until they’re taken off probation, the governor of the state is granted sole authority in restoring all restrictions placed on any former-convicts. Such restricted privileges are not limited to the right to vote, as other restricted acts include the ability to serve on a jury, run for public office, become a public notary, and the right to own & purchase a firearm. While Northam’s plan would restore voting rights and rights to publicly serve, it would not restore former-convicts’ rights to own or purchase a firearm. Northam’s plan is nearly identical to a recent bill passed by the General Assembly that would restore voting rights to all formerly-convicted felons in the state of Virginia.

Governor Northam, in a public statement, commented on his decision to grant voting rights to 69,000 felons, saying “Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity.” He further defended his position, explaining, “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.” 

Additionally, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Kelly Thomasson, commented on the plan, stating, “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.” Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D), similarly, commended his governor, calling Northam’s decision “True leadership by [Governor Northam].” He expanded upon this sentiment, stating, “I’ve said it before, men and women who have paid their debt to society deserve the right to rejoin our democracy. We can and should do this on a nationwide scale.”





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