On July 15, 2013, individuals who have committed a non-violent felony will have their civil rights automatically restored by the governor of Virginia. The new process streamlines an outdated system which currently barres as many as 350,000 Virginians from the right to vote – for life.
“Once these individuals have served their time and fully paid for the offenses they committed, they should be afforded a clear and fair opportunity to resume their lives as productive members of our society,” Governor McDonnell said. “For those who have fully paid their debt for their crimes, they deserve a second chance to fully rejoin society and exercise their civil and constitutional rights.”
The change eliminates a cumbersome application and a two-year waiting period for non-violent offenders. The old process also required court orders, references from non-family members, notarizations and offered no guarantee of rights restoration. The new process will be no barre individuals with misdemeanors or convictions.
To restore rights under the new process, non-violent offenders must have completed their sentence and be released from probation or parole and have paid all court costs, fines, victim restitution and satisfied all court-ordered conditions.
Currently, Virginia is one of only four states that permanently bars individuals with felony convictions from voting and other civil rights — even after they have paid their debt to society. Only an application to the Governor can restore their voting rights. For convicted felons in most states, their rights to vote are automatically restored after completing their sentences.
In Virginia, the restoration of rights includes the right to run for and hold public office, to serve on juries and to function as a notary public.
The move is significant because, currently, disenfranchisement – or the removal of the right to vote and other civil liberties – disproportionately effects communities of color in Virginia. One in five African Americans are permanently banned from voting and other civil rights in Virginia, according to the Advancement Project. The organization estimates that between 350,000 and 450,000 Virginia residents are disenfranchised.
The vast majority of disenfranchised persons in Virginia and the U.S. are no longer incarcerated and are tax-paying citizens with jobs and families, who are involved in their communities. At least two-thirds have fully completed their sentences, including probation and parole.
R.O.O.T.S. currently helps individuals with felonies restore their voting rights. Counselors work with ex-offenders to complete applications, obtain references and overcome other hurdles to restore their civil rights.