Northam restores civil rights of more than 69K Virginians with past felony convictions
Virginia is one of three states in the nation whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony convictions, but gives the governor the sole discretion to restore civil rights, excluding firearm rights.
Gov. Ralph Northam today exercised that discretion with volume, restoring the civil rights of more than 69,000 Virginians using new eligibility criteria that mirror a proposed change to the Constitution of Virginia that would automatically restore voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.
Under current state 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.
Northam said today that going forward, any Virginian released from incarceration will qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision. This change builds on a number of bipartisan reforms that have been made to the restoration of rights process over the last decade, including 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, Northam has restored civil rights to more than 111,000 people since he took office.
“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said. “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.”
“Restoring the rights of Virginians who have served their time makes it easier for these men and women to move forward with their lives,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said. “I am proud of Governor Northam’s initiative to welcome these individuals back into society. All Virginians deserve to have their voices heard, and these changes demonstrate the Northam Administration’s continued commitment to second chances, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.”
During the 2021 General Assembly session, legislators approved a constitutional amendment that affirms the fundamental right to vote and automatically restores the civil rights of any individual, upon completion of their sentence of incarceration.
The constitutional amendment has to be passed again by the General Assembly in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.
Northam spoke today at OAR of Richmond, a community leader in reentry services. In the coming days, he will visit other reentry service providers around Virginia to hear from returning citizens about their experiences, present them with their rights restoration documentation, and discuss the importance of the constitutional amendment that was passed by the General Assembly.
“This change will have a tremendous impact on the people we serve, enabling more Virginians to have their rights restored sooner,” said Sara Dimick, executive director of OAR of Richmond. “OAR is committed to removing barriers for those who seek to be contributing members of their communities, and we look forward to working with newly eligible individuals to ensure they can exercise their civil rights.”
For more information on restoration of rights, visit restore.virginia.gov.