Northam restores rights to 69,000
Published 6:00 am Friday, March 19, 2021
Gov. Ralph Northam recently restored the civil rights of more than 69,000 Virginians using new eligibility criteria that mirror a proposed change to the constitution of Virginia that would automatically restore voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.
Governor Northam announced that going forward, any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision. This change builds on a number of bipartisan reforms that have been made to the restoration of rights process over the past decade, including streamlining the application and eliminating the waiting period and the prerequisite that court costs and fees be paid prior to having one’s rights restored. With the announcement, Governor Northam restored civil rights to more than 111,000 people since he took office.
“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said. “We are a commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past. If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that.”
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Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary and carry a firearm. Virginia remains one of the three states in the nation whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony convictions, but gives the governor the sole discretion to restore civil rights, excluding firearm rights.
“Restoring the rights of Virginians who have served their time makes it easier for these men and women to move forward with their lives,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said. “I am proud of Governor Northam’s initiative to welcome these individuals back into society. All Virginians deserve to have their voices heard, and these changes demonstrate the Northam administration’s continued commitment to second chances, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.”
During the 2021 General Assembly session, legislators approved a constitutional amendment that affirms the fundamental right to vote and automatically restores the civil rights of any individual, upon completion of their sentence of incarceration. The constitutional amendment has to be passed again by the General Assembly in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.