Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is touting his record on criminal justice reform in an announcement that 22,205 former felons have had their civil rights restored since he took office. But the governor is still far behind his predecessor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who restored the civil rights of 170,000 former felons.
Among these rights are the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury and the right to run for public office and become a notary public. The governor has sole discretion to restore these rights; however, some rights, such as the right to carry a firearm, are outside of his authority to restore on his own discretion.
“Virginia remains one of the few states in the nation that permanently strip individuals of their civil rights after a felony conviction,” Northam said in a news release. “I’m proud to use my executive clemency power to restore those rights to Virginians who have completed their sentences and returned to their communities seeking a second chance. This is about doing what is fair and right, and is an important part of our ongoing work to build a stronger, more accessible, and more inclusive Commonwealth.”
Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications for the ACLU of Virginia, told The Center Square that Northam’s number is “pretty small” compared to McAuliffe’s. He said that hundreds of thousands of Virginians are still disenfranchised due to their felony records and that the ACLU is working on ways to change this.
“The ACLU of Virginia is in the early stages of a long-term campaign to amend the Constitution of Virginia to include a guaranteed right to vote for every citizen over 18 that cannot be taken away because someone makes a mistake or given back if they jump through certain hoops,” Farrar said. “And, yes, that includes people convicted of felonies and those who are incarcerated. People in jails on misdemeanor convictions already can vote, and we tax people who are incarcerated and count them for purposes of apportionment, so it doesn’t make sense that they don’t get to help decide who represents them.”
A person can request his or her rights be restored through the Secretary of Commonwealth’s office.