Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has restored the voting rights of more than 69,000 Virginians under a new change to the state’s constitution, which automatically restores voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.

From now on any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision.

The governor’s office says this change builds on bipartisan reforms that have been made to the restoration of rights process over the past decade.

“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” said Northam.

“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.”

Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a notary public 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,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

During the state’s 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 must be passed again by the body in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.

This comes as Virginia readies for gubernatorial and legislative elections over the next three months with primary voting on June 8.

Under Northam’s leadership, Virginia has set out to make many changes in a way that reckons with its racial past.

In 2020, Virginia eliminated the state holiday Lee-Jackson Day which honored Confederate generals replacing it with Election Day in April.

The Commonwealth also remained the leader throughout the nation in removing Confederate symbols with 71 down to date, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC].

“We must recognize states like Virginia who not only had the courage to discontinue its preservation law, but also led by example after removing 71 Confederate symbols from their public spaces in 2020,” SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks said.

In February, Virginia lawmakers signed off on making recreational marijuana legal.The same month legislators voted to repeal the death penalty due to its disproportionate impact on Black residents making it the first southern state to do so.

Northam has restored voting rights to more than 111,000 individuals since taking office.

“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” Sara Dimick, executive director of OAR of Richmond said.

“OAR is committed to removing barriers for those who seek to be contributing members of their communities, and we look forward to working with newly eligible individuals to ensure they can exercise their civil rights.”

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Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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