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Virginia Felon Voting Law Criticized as Outdated, Discriminatory

As Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs orders restoring voting rights to reformed Virginia felons, many are questioning the law making that necessary. (Michaele White/Governor's Office/Flickr)
As Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs orders restoring voting rights to reformed Virginia felons, many are questioning the law making that necessary. (Michaele White/Governor's Office/Flickr)
August 8, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. – Critics of Virginia's law that makes it hard for reformed felons to vote call it backward and discriminatory.

That includes Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who says he'll sign thousands of individual orders restoring voting rights for felons who have finished their sentences.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia says the law making those orders necessary should be repealed.

Warner says Virginia has become the odd state out since most states restore voting rights automatically. He says the law needs to go, as part of changes to the criminal justice system.

"Both Democrats and Republicans agree we need criminal justice reform, that we have too many people incarcerated, particularly for non-violent drug offenses,” Warner says. “The more we can ease their re-emergence as full citizens, it absolutely is where we ought to be heading."

The state Supreme Court ruled McAuliffe could not restore voting rights to 200,000 reformed felons in a single order, saying he had to act on a case-by-case basis.

Republican lawmakers hailed the ruling, saying McAuliffe had been hasty and sloppy in his initial order.

Critics such as Anna Scholl, executive director of the advocacy group Progress Virginia, argue the state's felon voting rules are rooted in an ugly racial history.

She says as the nation moves to make the ballot more accessible, Virginia needs to catch up.

"Do away with a law rooted in the Jim Crow South that disproportionately blocks black citizens from the polls,” she stresses. “It's disgraceful that some politicians would go to such lengths to block citizens from participating in our democracy."

Federal courts recently ruled that voter ID laws in five states discriminate against minority and low-income voters.

The Fourth Circuit Court in Richmond ruled against a set of North Carolina voter ID laws. It may also take on Virginia's voter ID law, although legal observers say that law is less problematic than some of the cases in other states.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA