On Tuesday (March 16), Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that he will take executive action to restore voting and civil rights to more than 69,000 former felons.
According to CNN, under current Virginia law, anyone who has been convicted of a felony loses their right to vote, serve on a jury and run for public office. The state’s Constitution gives the governor the power to restore those civil rights. Previously, former felons had to finish serving “active supervision,” including parole or probation, before they were allowed to have their rights restored. Northam’s new action means that ex-felons who have been released from prison but are still on supervision can now vote.
On Tuesday, the governor said that it's unfair to keep these rights away from former felons. “Probationary periods can last for years. But that’s also time in which a person is living in the community, rebuilding their lives,” Northam said. “They should be able to exercise those civil rights, even if they are still under supervision.”
“Letting these folks vote or exercise other civil rights isn’t a threat to public safety,” he added. “We’re a Commonwealth that believes in second chances. And we believe in forgiveness. We want people to move forward — not be tied down by the mistakes of their past.”
Kelly Thomasson, Virginia’s secretary of the commonwealth, did not have the demographic data for the 69,045 former felons whose rights were restored, but she believes they shouldn't be punished forever because of a “mistake” they made.
“We’re making a kind of a technical change that has a big impact,” Thomasson said Tuesday morning. “You don’t deserve to permanently have these rights stripped away because of a mistake you made. It’s about treating people equally and fairly.”
With Tuesday’s announcement, Northam has restored the voting rights for more than 111,000 people during his time in office.