Today, the ACLU of Virginia, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, the Williamsburg League of Women Voters, NoLefturns, Bridging the Gap Virginia, Neighborhood Law Center, Inc, and the Institute of Forgiveness sent the Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam a letter asking him to support Sen. Mamie Locke's SJR 272. This resolution would amend the Virginia constitution to guarantee a right to vote to all citizens 18 and over who are residents of the Commonwealth – effectively repealing felony disenfranchisement and finally ridding our constitution of this racist practice.
"We are challenging felony disenfranchisement and seeking to guarantee a right to vote for all because doing so is essential to assuring racial justice at the ballot box," the group wrote in the letter to the governor. "Our voting rights work is not about giving people convicted of felonies a 'second chance.' It is about finally righting the wrong done by politicians in post-Reconstruction Virginia who enshrined felony disenfranchisement in our constitution precisely and solely to keep Black Virginians from being able to participate in our political system or exercise their rights as citizens to engage as active partners in our democratic republic."
The group acknowledged the governor's work to restore voting rights individually to bring the number of Black people disenfranchised in the Commonwealth from one in five to one in seven. However, the reality is that about 12,000 people are felonized each year in a racially unjust system and the backlog of disenfranchised people remains.
In addition, the group stressed that "automatic restoration" is not racial justice: "Restoration does not repeal the language or address the racist intent of the felony disenfranchisement provision currently enshrined in our Virginia Constitution. Taking away a person’s right to vote who has been convicted of a felony has never been about punishing people who committed a crime. It was and remains an overt and intended effort to block Black people from voting. If that is in doubt, just read the debates at the 1902 Constitutional Convention. The delegates’ avowed goal was to 'purify' the ballot and felony disenfranchisement has proven to be their most impactful method."
The group called for the repeal of felony disenfranchisement, wholly and without limitation, to prevent this racist practice from impacting another single vote in this Commonwealth, citing strong support among Virginians for a guaranteed right to vote. "We ask you to reject automatic restoration as a policy objective and join us in actively supporting SJR 272 – the guaranteed right to vote for all," the group concluded.
You can read our full letter below.