Governor Glenn Youngkin approved restoration of civil rights to 3,469 Virginians, according to a Friday announcement.
“I am encouraged that over 3,400 Virginians will take this critical first step towards vibrant futures as citizens with full civil rights,” he said. “Individuals with their rights restored come from every walk of life and are eager to provide for themselves, their families, and put the past behind them for a better tomorrow.”
Virginia’s constitution currently requires the governor to individually sign off on restoring voting rights to felons; previous governors from both parties have restored rights to thousands of felons after they completed their sentences.
In 2021, the General Assembly passed a bill with bipartisan support to amend the state constitution, effectively automatically restoring voting rights to felons once they have been released from prison, ending the requirement for the governor’s individual restoration. However, the bill needed to be passed again in 2022 to be sent to a referendum for approval by Virginia voters.
Advocates argue that when combined with disproportional incarceration of minorities, disenfranchising felons is a relic of racist laws that effectively keeps minorities from voting. Opponents argue that the high barrier to restoring rights is appropriate – felons should complete their whole sentence, including probation and parole, before having rights restored.
In 2022, House of Delegates Republicans didn’t allow the legislation to the floor for a vote, where it’s likely some Republicans would have voted in favor of the bill. Democrats launched several failed attempts to force the bill to the floor.
Youngkin’s announcement said he would restore rights on an ongoing basis.
“The restoration of rights process provides a fresh step forward for individuals who have made mistakes, but have done their duty to our community and wish to be full and productive citizens of our commonwealth,” Secretary Kay Coles James said. “I look forward to their successful futures.”
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