Last year, we wrote about a proposed bill in Washington DC that would end felony disenfranchisement in the district. Fortunately, that bill passed and now the state of Virginia is eying a similar policy. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced an executive action this week that would restore voting and other civil rights to individuals incarcerated for felony offenses as soon as they finish their sentence.
Under current law, those convicted of felonies in the state lose the right to vote, serve on juries, and run for public office, even after their prison term is completed. This policy disproportionately affects communities of color and prevents individuals who have been incarcerated from reassimilating into society. It also negatively impacts the justice system as it limits diversity in jury pools.
This new change restores the right for 69,045 Virginians to participate in democracy and become more involved members of their community as jurors and public servants. Under the new policy, Virginia joins Maine, Vermont, and Washington, D.C who all maintain voting rights for felons and even protect the right to vote for individuals during their prison time.
“Letting these folks vote or exercise other civil rights isn’t a threat to public safety,” Northam 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.”