ACLU program encourages restoration of voting rights for former felons
Taking advantage of recent announcements from the governor that he will expedite restoration applications to enable former felons to vote in the November elections, the ACLU of Virginia has launched a program to encourage and assist individuals with the restoration of their voting rights.
The program begins with advertisements in today’s Voice newspaper in the Richmond area, and tomorrow’s Voice newspaper in Hampton Roads. Tomorrow’s Richmond Free Press will run a large format version of the ad.
The ads say the governor has indicated he will be able to process all fully completed applications from non-violent felons submitted by June 29 in time for the registration deadline of October 15. Also, because the governor’s office has a general goal of processing such applications within 60 days, the ACLU is encouraging those who miss the June 29 deadline to try to submit applications by mid-August.
The ACLU chose newspapers primarily aimed at the minority communities because Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law is a product of Jim Crow that still disproportionately impacts minority voters.
“Gov. McDonnell has shown an increasing interest in reintegrating former felons back into society, including an emphasis on restoring voting rights,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We want to help him do that by encouraging applications and helping with the process.”
“In the end, we are hoping that this will be the first step toward significant reform of Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law, which will require an executive order from the governor or an amendment to the state constitution,” added Willis.
Currently, only Virginia, Florida, Kentucky and Iowa disenfranchise for life all persons convicted of a felony, requiring an individual action by the governor for rights to be restored. An estimated 375,000 persons in Virginia cannot vote because of a felony conviction.
Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law in its current form dates to the state’s 1901 constitutional convention , often referred to as the ” Jim Crow convention,” during which delegates instituted or continued poll taxes, literacy tests, appointive schools boards and felon disenfranchisement for the expressed purpose of suppressing voting by African-Americans.