Organizations promise to continue efforts to reform state's voter disenfranchisement lawRichmond, VA – Civil rights and faith-based groups that have been actively lobbying Governor Tim Kaine to restore voting rights to 300,000 Virginians disenfranchised by the state's last vestige of Jim Crow today expressed extreme disappointment in the Governor's decision not to act before leaving office. Virginia is one of only two states--Kentucky is the other -- that permanently disenfranchises all felons, requiring an act of the Governor for rights to be restored. The law is a carryover from the 1901 Constitutional Convention, which was called primarily for the purpose of perpetuating or instituting polices that would prevent racial minorities from voting and holding elected office in the state.
"We are extremely disappointed that Governor Kaine did not act before leaving office," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. "This was his chance to have Virginia join the 48 other states that have put this aspect of Jim Crow behind them. Our hope now is that Governor-elect McDonnell will embrace reform of Virginia's shameful felon disenfranchisement law and move us forward."
Although the legislature has failed to act to change the felon disenfranchisement law, the Governor has the power to issue a blanket executive order restoring voting rights to all persons with felony convictions. Advocates for reform have asked the Governor to take action since he took office, but stepped up their efforts in recent weeks as Kaine's term was coming to an end. Over the last two months, the Governor and his staff met frequently with representatives of statewide and community organizations, and thousands of voters inundated the Governor's office with emails and phone calls asking him to take action.
Among the groups that joined forces to seek reform of Virginia's disenfranchisement law are the NAACP Virginia State Conference, Virginia League of Women Voters, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Virginia Organizing Project, STEP-UP, Incorporated, Virginia CURE, The Northern Virginia Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, The Rutherford Institute, and the Virginia Conference United Methodist Church. The Virginia Catholic Conference and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. State Social Action Task Force and the Old Dominion Bar Association have also called for reform of Virginia’s felon disfranchisement law.
Spokespersons for the groups vowed to continue the fight to reform the Virginia law, indicating that they would immediately begin to work with Governor-elect Bob McDonnell and his staff, and that they would renew efforts to amend the Virginia Constitution through legislative action.
In a letter released earlier today, Mark Rubin, Counsel to the Governor, indicated that the Governor opposes Virginia's felon disenfranchisement law and would be willing to work to change it after leaving office.
To learn more about felon disfranchisement in Virginia, go to www.restoreourvote.org.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022