Advancement Project Applauds Virginia Governor for Expanding Voting Rights Restoration

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CONTACT: Cynthia Gordy, 718-755-4340


April 18, 2014                                                                                    


Advancement Project Applauds Virginia Governor for Expanding Voting Rights Restoration

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced today that his administration is narrowing the commonwealth’s list of felony offenses classified as “violent” by removing all drug charges from the list. This will expand the number of citizens eligible for Virginia’s automatic voting rights restoration process for people with non-violent felony convictions. The commonwealth is also reducing the five-year waiting period, for when people with violent convictions may apply to get their rights back, to three years. Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization that has worked in Virginia for 10 years, issued the following statement in response:

“We commend Gov. McAuliffe for taking a major step that will allow more Virginia citizens to participate in our democracy,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “In order for automatic voting rights restoration to be meaningful, the process should be broadly applied and reach a significant number of the more than 350,000 Virginians who are currently banned from the ballot box due to prior felony convictions. Once a citizen has done time and repaid his or her debt to society, they should not be deprived of their fundamental right to vote. As a result of today’s decision, more people will be able to fully rejoin their communities and stand alongside their neighbors at the voting booth. It’s particularly encouraging that Gov. McAuliffe has reclassified all drug offenses as non-violent, as the arrest rates for these crimes disproportionately impact people of color due to the unjust War on Drugs. With one in five African-American adults in Virginia disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, we hope today’s decision will jumpstart the process of dismantling this staggering injustice.”

“We applaud the efforts of courageous grassroots advocates across the commonwealth – including Virginia New Majority, Virginia Organizing, Holla Back and Restore, S.O.B.E.R. House, and Bridging the Gap in Virginia, among others – who continue to hold Virginia officials accountable for their responsibility to clear barriers to the ballot box,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “Their invaluable work made today’s announcement possible.”

“While we are glad the Governor has responded to community concerns, we remain concerned about Virginia’s continued distinction between violent and non-violent offenses in the voting rights restoration process,” said Advancement Project Managing Director and General Counsel, Edward A. Hailes. “There are numerous benefits to restoring voting rights for people who have completed their sentences, including the fostering of full community integration, and the fulfillment of our core democratic principles. Those benefits apply for everyone, regardless of the basis for their conviction. We encourage Virginia to join the majority of states, which do not make distinctions between different types of offenses, by passing a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights for all.”

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Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.