Virginia is one of only four states to permanently disenfranchise its citizens who are convicted of a felony. And under the Virginia Constitution, only the governor can restore civil rights to those who have been disenfranchised. As a result, in 2016, an estimated 508,680 Virginians were barred from voting, of which 408,000 have completed their sentences. African-Americans of voting age are disproportionately impacted by the law: nearly 272,000 African-Americans of voting age are barred from voting due to a felony conviction, of which more than 217,000 have completed their sentences.
In the past two decades, Virginia’s governors have been restoring voting rights to increasing numbers of individuals. In 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring voting rights more than 200,000 Virginians convicted of felonies but who had completed their sentences. Unfortunately, a lawsuit was filed challenging the Governor’s authority and the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Governor could only restore rights on an individual basis, not as a blanket order for a group of people.
The court’s ruling now means that amending the state Constitution is the only way to get rid of this antiquated policy. The ACLU of Virginia advocates incorporating an affirmative right to vote in the Virginia Constitution that can't be revoked. The constitutional disenfranchisement provision, dating from the Jim Crow era, must be repealed.
Did you know?
● More than 1 in 5 African-Americans of voting age in Virginia is permanently disenfranchised because of felony disenfranchisement.
● Recent governors and their voting rights restoration records:
○ Gov. George Allen (1994-1998): restored rights to 460 individuals
○ Gov. Jim Gilmore (1998-2002): restored rights to 238 individuals
○ Gov. Mark Warner (2002-2006): restored rights to 3,486 individuals
○ Gov. Tim Kaine (2006-2010): restored rights to 4,402 individuals
○ Gov. Bob McDonnell (2010-2014): restored rights to 8,013 individuals
○ Gov. Terry McAuliffe (2014-present): restored rights to 156,000 individuals (and counting)