Automatic Rights Restoration in Virginia

Automatic Rights Restoration in Virginia


In May, Governor McDonnell took a major step in the right direction when he announced plans to automatically restore voting rights to Virginia citizens with nonviolent felony convictions. The new automatic rights restoration process, which eliminates the two-year waiting period and removes the application process, will apply to individuals that meet the following criteria:

  • Have been convicted of a non-violent felony in a Virginia court, or been convicted in a U.S. District Court, military court or a court of another state or territory;
  • Have completed serving the prison sentence and been released from probation or parole;
  • Have paid all court costs, fines to the Commonwealth and restitution to the victims, satisfied all court-ordered conditions, and have no pending felony charges.

The new policy takes the burden off of people with non-violent felonies, who will no longer have to petition the Governor to get their civil rights back. Instead, the onus will now lie on the state government to protect and restore their right to vote.



Advancement Project is serving on the Governor McDonnell’s working group to help create a framework for implementing the reforms. We are pushing him to deliver on his commitment to automatic rights restoration by making it apply to as many of the more than 350,000 Virginians who are disenfranchised as possible.

Under the Governor’s plan, only people with nonviolent felonies are eligible for automatic rights restoration. For citizens who have committed what the Commonwealth defines as violent felonies, they are excluded from this new process. Currently, Virginia’s classification of violent crimes is remarkably expansive. In fact, with offenses like burglary and certain kinds of drug possession on this list, Virginia’s stance on the issue is more restrictive than policies in Mississippi and Alabama.

In order for this action to be meaningful and reach the greatest number of impacted people possible, the Commonwealth’s list of crimes categorized as “violent” must be narrow and specific so that more people can have a second chance.