Virginia's Nonviolent Felons Get Voting Rights Victory

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed an executive order to restore voting to people who have served time for nonviolent felonies.

A number of civil rights groups and advocacy organizations are hailing the decision of Virginia Bob McDonnell to restore the voting rights of people who had served time for nonviolent felonies.
For months, a number of groups have urged the governor to restore the voting rights to citizens who had been convicted of nonviolent felonies, reversing a policy of permanently disenfranchising such residents from being able to vote. That left an estimated 350,000 people unable to cast ballots.
The governor announced he will implement a policy, through an executive action, that would allow those voting rights to be restored upon the completion of a convicted person’s sentence.
“We commend Gov. McDonnell for doing what his predecessors would not – taking an executive action to loosen Virginia’s grip on its antiquated felony disenfranchisement law,” Judith Browne Dianis, the co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights group based in Washington.
She added, however, that Virginia still should restore voting rights to people who have served time for nonviolent felonies through a constitutional amendment passed by the state’s General Assembly.
“We hope to build on this development in order to move Virginia fully toward America’s promise of a robust and inclusive democracy,” Browne Dianis said.
Many grassroots advocates, several of whom have been personally impacted because of prior felony convictions, said they were heartened by the decision.
“I applaud the steps Gov. McDonnell has taken to ensure that more Virginians can have a voice in our democracy, and I hope that he will build upon this effort,” said the Rev. Mercedes Harris, an ordained minister and drug abuse counselor. Harris had his right to vote restored last year after first becoming disenfranchised in the late 1980s for two felony counts of drug distribution.
“Restoring voting rights – for all people with felony convictions – sends the message that citizens who want a second chance are welcome as full members of our communities,” Harris said. “This helps to reintegrate people back into society and, as research on voting and recidivism shows, prevents future crimes.”

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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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