ACLU Applauds Governor’s Expedited Process for Restoring Voting Rights of Virginians with Non-violent Felony Convictions

Advocacy group urges legislators to make true reform.

Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today applauded Governor Bob McDonnell for his decision to expedite the process for restoring the voting rights of Virginians with non-violent felony convictions.

“We are grateful to the Governor for his leadership in reforming the voter restoration process,” said ACLU of Virginia Board President Jayne Barnard.  “The Governor has made strides toward improving democracy in Virginia by restoring voting rights automatically to Virginians with non-violent felony convictions. The Governor will be giving voice to thousands of Virginians who have been denied participation in elections due to an antiquated and regressive voting law in the Commonwealth.”

“For too long, Virginia has been successful in implementing a law designed to target minority voters: one in five African-American adults in the state is disenfranchised,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga.  “This expedited process is a move towards repairing some of this damage.  We look forward to working with the Governor as he implements the new system.”

“While we are glad to see that the Governor has taken steps to improve the restoration process by removing the waiting period and other barriers for non-violent felons, more work remains.” said ACLU of Virginia Legislative Counsel and Staff Attorney Hope Amezquita.   “Virginia’s law denying for life the right to vote to individuals with felony convictions is written into the state constitution.  It is our hope that with continued leadership and advocacy from some of Virginia’s highest elected officials across the spectrum, state legislators will finally see the wisdom of ridding Virginia of this punitive law once and for all.”

The ACLU of Virginia, along with scores of ministers, faith-based groups, the NAACP and numerous other state and local organizations have pressed for reform of Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law for years.  Over the past several years, the ACLU has pushed for legislative reforms, in 2010, rights restoration advocates urged then-Governor Tim Kaine to issue an executive order, and on January 21 the ACLU urged Governor McDonnell to issue an executive order.

Under the Virginia Constitution, the governor, not the General Assembly, has control over the process for restoring voting rights of felons.  Only the General Assembly has the power to put a Constitutional amendment to change this before the people for a vote.  A constitutional amendment requires approval by two separate legislative sessions (with a House of Delegates election in between) before it can be put to a referendum by Virginia voters. This year, the Virginia General Assembly again failed to pass any measures that would reform Virginia’s disenfranchisement law.

ACLU of Virginia Contact:
Claire G. Gastañaga, Executive Director, 804-644-8022