What is “Rights Restoration” & Why Should I Care?
Virginia is one of just a handful of states with a law that permanently disenfranchises persons with past felony convictions. The others mainly include Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky. Due to grave racial disparities in the criminal justice system, you can imagine the effect this has on communities of color: it strips entire Black and Brown neighborhoods of a voice in our democracy. It’s no wonder scholars have termed Virginia’s felony disenfranchisement law in particular a “ghost” of the state’s Jim Crow past.
Earlier this year, over 7% of Virginia’s adult population was not eligible to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. That figure was even worse when factoring in race. African-Americans accounted for an incredible 53.8% of the disenfranchised population, despite comprising only 19.4% of Virginia’s adult population.
There have been several pushes, though unsuccessful so far, for legislatures to dismantle their harsh felony disenfranchisement laws and institute an automatic restoration process. After all, evidence shows that democratic participation such as voting reduces recidivism. Our laws should encourage citizens to re-build their lives, not add unnecessary barriers to exercising the fundamental right to vote.
For further information on the history of felony disenfranchisement in Virginia and recent litigation related to this matter, please view Advancement Project’s June 2016 Amicus Brief in Howell v. McAuliffe.
For information about the process of having your rights restored, see the document below.