Civil rights restored to more than 69,000 Virginians

Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 1:13 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - More than 69,000 Virginians have had their civil rights restored to them using new eligibility criteria that mirror a proposed change to the Constitution of Virginia, according to a release from Governor Ralph Northam’s office.

Governor Northam announced Tuesday that, moving forward, any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they are under community supervision. Current law dictates anyone convicted of a felony in the Commonwealth loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, to serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary or carry a firearm. Virginia is one of three states with a constitution that permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony convictions; however, the governor has the ability to restore civil rights, except for firearm rights.

“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” said Governor Northam. “We are a Commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past. If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that.”

A number of bipartisan reforms have been made to the restoration of rights process over the past ten years, including streamlining the application and eliminating the waiting period and the prerequisite that court costs be paid before having rights restored.

“Restoring the rights of Virginians who have served their time makes it easier for these men and women to move forward with their lives,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson. “I am proud of Governor Northam’s initiative to welcome these individuals back into society. All Virginians deserve to have their voices heard, and these changes demonstrate the Northam Administration’s continued commitment to second chances, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.”

Lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment in the 2021 General Assembly session that automatically restores the civil rights of any person after they have completed their sentence. The governor’s office says the amendment has to be passed again in 2022 by the General Assembly before going to a voter referendum.

“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” said Sara Dimick, executive director of OAR of Richmond, a community leader in reentry services. “OAR is committed to removing barriers for those who seek to be contributing members of their communities, and we look forward to working with newly eligible individuals to ensure they can exercise their civil rights.”

With this move, Governor Northam has restored civil rights to more than 111,000 people since taking office.

For more information on restoration of rights, click here.

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