Target: Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia
Goal: Allow convicted felons to automatically regain voting rights after being released from prison
Virginia is one of the only states in the country with laws that permanently take away voting rights from convicted felons. After a certain number of years, citizens with felony convictions can apply to regain their voting rights, but the applications have to be approved by the governor directly and, until recently, could take over a year to be processed. The current governor has updated the law to guarantee that most complete applications will be approved in less than two months, but the new process still leaves over 300,000 non-incarcerated citizens ineligible to vote in the upcoming election. It is time for Virginia to stop discriminating against former felons and automatically restore their voting rights.
Virginia added felony disenfranchisement to its Constitution after the 15th Amendment ended legal voting discrimination against people of color. The law was intended to prevent a significant number of African Americans from voting, given the number of former slaves who were unjustly arrested. While other discriminatory voting laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests have since been deemed unconstitutional, the law that discriminates against felons remains in place, and continues to disproportionately affect people of color because of past and present institutional discrimination.
Although the current governor of Virginia has made progress in granting ex-felons voting rights, it is within his power to change the law to automatically give felons their voting rights once they have served their sentences, instead of requiring a waiting period of several years followed by a complicated application process. Before applying, the law requires all related fines to be paid, which may cause problems for former felons who have difficulty finding jobs. Many of these rehabilitated felons served sentences for non-violent crimes, making a lifelong ban from the voting booth seem unreasonable.
Virginia’s felony voting law, although slightly improved thanks to the current governor’s changes to the application process, still unfairly strips citizens of rights that most other states in the country agree they deserve. The current law, just like the original law, still unjustly targets African Americans because of discriminatory practices in the country’s justice system, as well as in other institutions. Virginia must end this discriminatory system and update its laws to restore voting rights to citizens after being released from prison.
Dear Governor McDonnell,
Most states in the country have updated their voting laws to allow convicted felons to participate in the political process after being released from prison, but Virginia is one of the few states that continues to permanently disenfranchise former felons.
Although the new application process you put into effect has restored voting rights for many citizens, hundreds of thousands of Virginians are still affected by the law and will not be eligible to vote in the upcoming election. Because of the discrimination that persists in a majority of the country’s institutions, this law overwhelmingly targets African Americans, as was the case when the felony disenfranchisement laws were first put in place.
Many former prisoners make significant contributions to society after serving their sentences and deserve to be treated as full citizens. Please consider changing your state’s current law to allow former felons to automatically regain voting rights after being rehabilitated and released from prison.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Daquella manera via Flickr