Virginia Governor Refuses to Restore Voting Rights to People With Felony Convictions

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
January 15, 2010 12:00 am

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ACLU of Virginia
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RICHMOND, VA — Va. Governor Tim Kaine announced today that he will not use his executive powers before leaving office to restore voting rights to 300,000 Virginians who do not have the right to vote because they were once convicted of a crime. Governor Kaine’s decision leaves these citizens without the right to vote even though they have returned to the community and completed all terms of their sentence.

Virginia is one of only two states in the country (Kentucky is the other) that denies the right to vote — for life — to anyone with a criminal conviction. The only means by which an individual can regain the right to vote is by going through a lengthy application process to prove to the governor that he or she is worthy of the right to vote; even then the governor can deny that application for any reason or no reason at all.

The result: hundreds of thousands of Virginians are denied the right to vote, even though they have completed their entire criminal sentence and are living and working in the community. The laws that disenfranchise citizens who have been convicted of a crime were shaped in many respects by Jim Crow laws and continue to disproportionately affect people of color: one in every six African Americans in Virginia is permanently disenfranchised under this law. African Americans make up only one-fifth of Virginia’s population, but over half of those who are disenfranchised.

The following can be attributed to Erika Wood of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law: “We are deeply disappointed that Governor Kaine did not use his power to consign this relic of Virginia’s Jim Crow history to the past. The language in the Virginia Constitution is remarkably clear and vests the Governor with broad authority to end this archaic practice. We are ready to work with Governor McDonnell to do just that.”

The following can be attributed to Eddie Hailes of the Advancement Project: “Sadly, Governor Kaine announced his decision to leave more than 160,000 African Americans without the right to vote in the Commonwealth on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite our profound disappointment with Governor Kaine’s capitulation to the status quo, we will not give up the fight to remove racial discrimination from the face of our democracy.”

The following can be attributed to Rachel Bloom, Advocacy Coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program: “Virginia’s disenfranchisement policy is out of step with American values of fairness and democracy. We hope that 2010 marks the year that Virginia joins the rest of the country by honoring the fundamental right to vote and eliminating this racially discriminatory barrier to the franchise.”

The following can be attributed to Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project: “Governor Kaine missed an important opportunity to encourage successful reintegration back into the community. Continuing to shut people out of the democratic process brands people as political outsiders and disrupts the reentry process.”

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