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A Step Forward in Restoring Voting Rights to Former Felons

January 23, 2009

Richmond – A proposal to restore voting rights to former felons moves forward in the General Assembly, the very first step toward a state Constitutional amendment. A record 74 percent of registered voters in Virginia cast their ballot in the 2008 Presidential Election. The high turnout inspired a push to change Virginia's highly restrictive voter registration laws.

LaTonya Reed, policy analyst for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, says Virginia is one of only two states – Kentucky is the other – in which all felons lose their voting rights for life unless they get a special dispensation from the Governor. Reed says restoring the ability to vote would help these people stay straight.

"There are some studies that indicate people who regain the right to vote form the types of relationships within their communities that ultimately discourage deviant behavior."

Religious leaders see a natural connection between their faith and the restoration of rights, according to Reed.

"All of our faith traditions teach us that we are to be forgiving because our creator is forgiving. We think that our laws should also reflect that principle."

The restoration of rights would include voting, the ability to run for office, become a notary public and serve on a jury.

An estimated 300,000 former felons reside in Virginia. The number has ballooned over the past 25 years thanks to 'three-strikes' laws and mandatory sentencing. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, an estimated one-in-four African American men in Virginia cannot vote because of felony convictions. The measure supporting a full restoration of rights now goes before the House Full Committee on Privileges and Elections.

Aries Keck, Public News Service - VA