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Virginia Governor Clears Path For Ex-Convicts To Regain Voting Rights

Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced an executive action on Tuesday that allows tens of thousands of felons to recover their voting and other civil rights upon release from prison.

The move applies immediately to an estimated 69,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences, including ex-convicts who remain on supervision. And it comes as the state prepares for gubernatorial and legislative elections on June 8.

"Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity," said Northam said in a statement.

"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," he added.

Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm. The state constitution gives the governor sole discretion to restore civil rights, with the exception of firearms rights.

Prior to the executive action, only former inmates who had finished serving "active supervision," including probation or parole, were eligible to have their voting rights restored. Now, eligible people can apply to get those rights restored.

As NPR member station VPM reported:

"The Virginia General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment last month that would automatically restore the voting rights of people who served out their jail or prison sentence. But in order to amend the constitution, lawmakers have to approve the measure again during the next general assembly session and put it before voters in a referendum."

Northam's office touted the action as the latest bipartisan move to restore civil rights over the last decade. That includes streamlining the application and eliminating the waiting period and the prerequisite that court costs and fees be paid prior to having one's rights restored.

"With today's announcement, Governor Northam has restored civil rights to more than 111,000 people since he took office," the statement reads.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.