ACLU Urges Support, Says 300,000 Virginians Denied Fundamental RightRichmond, VA – The Privileges and Elections Committee of the Virginia Senate will likely vote this afternoon on a constitutional amendment to allow non-violent felons who have completed their sentences to be able to vote. Under existing law in Virginia, all felons are permanently disenfranchised, and may have their right to vote restored only by the Governor.
There are approximately 380,000 Virginia residents who cannot vote because they have been convicted of a felony. About 300,000 of them have completed their sentences.
Virginia's felon disenfranchisement law, which dates to the Jim Crow era, was put in place expressly for the purpose of suppressing minority voting, and it still disproportionately impacts African-Americans. About 50% of the disenfranchised voters in Virginia are racial minorities.
While many states disenfranchised felons during the Jim Crow era, nearly every state has modified or eliminated its felon enfranchisement law in recent years. Virginia and Kentucky are now the only two states that permanently remove voting rights from all felons and then require personal gubernatorial action for restoration.
Advocates for restoration cite three main reasons for reform. First is the fundamental fairness of allowing those who have completed their sentences to vote. Second is the racial underpinnings of disenfranchisement laws. Third, is research indicating that that felons who are allowed to vote after completing their sentences are about half as likely to commit crimes and return to prison as those who cannot vote.
“It’s time for Virginia to catch up with the rest of the nation on restoration of voting rights,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “If the goal of corrections is to punish individuals for their crimes and then reintegrate them into society as productive citizens, then it makes sense to allow them to participate in our democracy.”
“We’ve gotten beyond poll taxes and literacy tests, and we’ve made enormous strides to eliminate racial gerrymandering,” added Willis. “Felon disenfranchisement is the last great symbol of the Jim Crow era in Virginia, and it needs to go.”
The restoration resolution is SJ 7, patroned by Sen. Yvonne Miller of Norfolk. It is on the agenda for the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee today at 4:00 p.m. The full text and history of the bill is available at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?ses=081&typ=bil&val=sj7.
An overview of felon disenfranchisement in Virginia can be found online at http://www.acluva.org/legislature/2008/BriefingPaperFelonEnfranchisement.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis, 804/644-8022