Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe today signed an executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 people who were convicted of felonies, served their sentences, and completed parole. Each of these individuals is now immediately eligible to register to vote.
“People have served their time and done their probation,” Governor McAuliffe said. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.”
Nationwide, nearly six million Americans are prevented from voting because of a past criminal conviction, including about 4.4 million people who are no longer incarcerated.
Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act banned poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and other policies that barred African Americans from voting, one in every 13 Black adults in America is disenfranchised as a result of racially discriminatory felony disenfranchisement laws.
Virginia’s laws disenfranchising people with felony convictions date back to the Civil War. In 1902, those restrictions were expanded, and poll taxes and literacy tests were introduced. As one state senator put it at that time, these measures were designed to “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State” and ensure “the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”
Today, one in five African Americans in Virginia is disenfranchised. “There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Governor McAuliffe told the New York Times yesterday.
The governor’s office said in a statement that today’s order will restore voting and civil rights, including the right to hold public office, serve on a jury, and act as a notary public, for 206,000 people.
“If we are going to build a stronger and more equal Virginia, we must break down barriers to participation in civic life for people who return to society seeking a second chance. We must welcome them back and offer the opportunity to build a better life by taking an active role in our democracy,” the governor said. “I believe it is time to cast off Virginia’s troubling history of injustice and embrace an honest, clean process for restoring the rights of these men and women.”
Virginia joins 19 other states that restore voting rights to citizens who complete incarceration, probation, and parole. That leaves 11 states (Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming) that do not automatically restore voting rights to people who have served their sentences.