The Virginia electorate just got a heck of a lot larger. In his latest move to abolish policies that disproportionately keep people of color away from the polls, governor Terry McAuliffe (D) just used his executive power to restore voting rights to about 206,000 people with past felony convictions. It’s a move that could have a significant impact in this fall’s presidential election, as Virginia is traditionally a battleground state.
“Throughout my administration my team and I have operated on a simple principle: Virginians who have served their time and reentered society should do so as full citizens of our Commonwealth and country,” McAuliffe said in a press release posted today (April 22). “Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy. Today we are reversing that disturbing trend and restoring the rights of more than 200,000 of our fellow Virginians who work, raise families and pay taxes in every corner of our Commonwealth.”
Impacted Virginians immediately regain the right to vote, run for office, serve on a jury and work as a notary public. And each month, the state will restore the rights to everyone who completed a sentence in the previous 30 days.
It’s not McAuliffe’s first time restoring rights to the formerly incarcerated. In June 2015, he reformed the state’s process for regaining voting rights, eliminating a provision that required them to pay outstanding court costs and feed before they could register.
According to The Washington Post, advocacy groups support the change.
“It is a historic day for democracy in Virginia and across our nation,” Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of progressive group New Virginia Majority, said. “The disenfranchisement of people who have served their sentences was an outdated, discriminatory vestige of our nation’s Jim Crow past.” People of color make up more than half of Virginia’s incarcerated population.
Some Republican state officials aren’t on board, however. “A murder victim won’t get to vote, but the man that killed them will,” said state delegate Robert B. Bell. “You will have child pornographers, human traffickers, robbers, rapists, murderers eligible to sit on juries and hear criminal cases of people who commit similar crimes.”
Virginia citizens can see if their rights have been restored via this site.