By Sue Lewis, President of League of Women Voters of Virginia
The right to vote should include all Virginia citizens, whether incarcerated or convicted of a felony. Today that is not true.
A principle of the League of Women Voters of the United States is that every citizen should be protected in the right to vote. This is not the case in Virginia where our constitution does not guarantee that right. Voting rights of people convicted of a felony can change with the preferred policy of a governor. That policy is precarious, unpredictable, confusing, and changed frequently. For years we fought for restoration of voting rights but it is clear now that our position must change to support the only permanent solution: a constitutional right to vote that cannot be abridged by law.
LWV-VA agrees with the principle that every citizen should have an equal voice in government, even if incarcerated.
Participation in deciding who governs – having a voice – is empowering and promotes responsibility. Without that voice, citizens are isolated from society, unaware of issues and less involved in suggesting solutions to problems. Our interviews with people who are incarcerated regarding the possibility of voting always reveals their surprise and interest.
The right to vote is not harmful. There is no security issue in the act of voting.
People who are in jail for misdemeanors already can vote absentee by mail. Those in prison should be able to do so, too.
Too many years have passed in Virginia with continued disenfranchisement of many citizens. This is very contrary to the League’s principles that we have supported with years of work. Thus, we now strongly support a Virginia constitutional amendment to repeal the current limits on the right to vote and to add the guarantee of the right to vote for all citizens as proposed in SJR 261, SJR 262, and HJR 598 for consideration in the 2019 General Assembly Session.