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.
What is disfranchisement?
Disenfranchisement removes a person’s right to vote and other civil liberties. Disenfranchissed citizens can no longer vote, run for public office or hold public office, serve on juries or serve as a notary public. Between 350,000 and 450,000 Virginia residents are disenfranchised.
Virginia’s disenfranchisement law is one of the most restrictive in the country. Only Kentucky is as restrictive. Most states restore voting rights to all former felons upon completion of incarceration, parole or probation. A few require a waiting period or exclude only those who have committed the most offensive crimes. Some offer automatic rights restoration after a sentence is completed. Two states– Maine and Vermont — never remove voting rights.
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.
The impact of disenfranchisement falls disproportionately upon communities of color. African-Americans make up more than 50% of the state’s disenfranchised population, despite being only 20% of the total population. In Virginia, one in five African-American adults is disenfranchised. This means more than 200,000 African-Americans cannot vote.
Voting and Public Safety
Individuals who vote after completing their sentences are half as likely to commit another crime as those who do not vote. For former felons, voting is an important way to become engaged and invested in the community, and helps them fully reintegrate into society.
How to Restore Your Rights in Virginia
The application process to restore your rights can be long, complicated and may be denied. Depending on your felony conviction, you will need to complete one of two forms. All applications are reviewed in the order in which they are received. Applications must be complete in order to be considered, and you must have paid all costs and fines related to your conviction. Also, you cannot have a conviction for a DWI within the past five years immediately preceding your application, and you must have paid all costs and fines owed to any other court, including traffic fines.
If you have been convicted of a non-violent felony…
If you were convicted of a non-violent felony and have been released from supervised probation for a minimum of two years, restoring your rights only requires the completion of a one-page short-form application.
If you have been convicted of a violent felony, drug or election law offense…
A longer application is required for those who have been convicted of violent, drug, or election law offense and you must have been released from supervised probation for a minimum of five years.
Register to Vote
After your rights are restored, you still need to register in order to vote. That means completing and submitting a Virginia Voter Registration Application. You can find the application:
- at your local voting registration office
- at the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles
- at public libraries
To learn more about restoring your voting rights, or to get help with completing the voter registration application, visit the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.
Sign a pledge in support of automatic rights restoration at the Advancement Project’s website >
Content on this page was gathered and republished from the Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and Advancement Project. We gratefully acknowledge their contributions to rights restoration and support of re-entry efforts.