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Virginia moves closer to allowing former felons the right to vote

A Democratic Senator wants to change the laws that prohibit Virginians with prior felony convictions from voting in elections.

  /  02.19.2022

A new bill in Virginia would allow former felons the right to vote

According to Richmond, Virginia TV station WRIC, the Virginia Senate has passed Senate Bill 21 and Senate Bill 767. 

SB 767 supports SB 21 by encouraging former felons to vote, while the primary bill authorizes them to vote.

WRIC states that SB 21 also forbids former felons from casting ballots if they are mentally incapable of understanding how to vote. 

Both pieces of legislation were introduced by Virginia Senator Mamie Locke — who has supported varying forms of the bill since 2018.  

The Democratic Senator wants to change the fact that Virginians with prior felony convictions are not allowed to vote in elections unless the governor or another authoritative entity restores their rights. 

Last year, in front of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, Locke stated, “Automatic restoration of rights is not racial justice.”

“It is beyond dispute that felony disenfranchisement is like  Jim Crow as poll taxes,” she said at the time. “Why are we talking about giving something back to people that should have never been taken away in the first place? The right to vote is the essential currency of democracy. Withholding it from 100,000 of Black Virginians whether they are incarcerated or not makes a mockery of any pretense that we are a commonwealth seeking to right past wrongs, and offer reparations for past injustices.”

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights in 2016 to nearly 200,000 felons through a monumental executive order. 

The Virginia Supreme Court, however, ruled that McAuliffe’s executive order was unconstitutional and that voting rights should be restored on a case-by-case basis. 

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are over 250,000 residents in Virginia who cannot vote due to a previous conviction. The organization states there are currently over five million former felons nationwide who have completed their sentences but can no longer vote

Lawmakers passed the proposed constitutional amendment last year, WRIC reports. But in order to amend the Virginia constitution, legislators need to pass the bills by majority vote for two consecutive years and then voters can decide in November through a referendum. 

If the bills clear the House, the laws could potentially go into effect early next year. 




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