By Elizabeth Wong, Associate Director
On Monday, November 1, the day before Election Day, people across the country will urge passage of the Democracy Restoration Act by calling their congressional representatives to ask them to support passage of the Democracy Restoration Act (S.1516 and H.R.3335).
Four million American citizens, including a disproportionately high 300,000 in Virginia, cannot vote because of a criminal conviction in their past.  The DRA would automatically restore voting rights in federal elections for all felons once they have completed their prison sentences.
Every advocate for fairness and equality should support the DRA, but if you live in Virginia, your interest in this law should be even greater than others.  Virginia is one of only two states in the nation that permanently disenfranchises all felons, requiring an individual act of the Governor for voting rights to be restored.
Virginia legislators and elected officials have failed time and again to make any serious progress in restoring the right to vote.  In the past few General Assembly sessions, we have made some headway and are getting closer to obtaining the number of votes we need to pass legislative reforms.  But the Virginia Constitution remains unchanged.
Because the DRA applies only to federal elections it does not directly affect individuals wishing to vote in Virginia’s state and local races.  However, it could provide just the impetus needed to reform Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law.
If the DRA becomes law, Virginia will have to make a choice between having a single voter registration system that allows felons to vote in both federal and state elections, and keeping separate voter rolls for federal and state elections (in which felons are allowed to vote in the former but not the latter). Separate systems for federal and state elections are generally considered to be expensive and confusing to manage.
Support rights restoration and the reform of Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law by calling Senator Jim Webb (202-224-4024), Senator Mark Warner (202-224-2023), and your Representative in Congress. Urge them to support the Democracy Restoration Act!  (If you are in Rep. Bobby Scott’s or Rep. Jim Moran’s district, call to thank them for co-sponsoring the DRA.)
For more information on why you should support restoration of voting rights for felons and our efforts to restore voting rights in Virginia, visit www.restoreourvote.org.