Virginia Slowly Restoring Voting Rights to Ex-Felons

By: Rachel Ryan Email
By: Rachel Ryan Email

This presidential election will be Theodore Brown's first time voting. A convicted felon, Brown spent two years in prison on drug and gun charges and lost the right to cast his ballot.

"At the time I didn't really think about it, but when I got out, I wanted to restore my life and make a better life because I have children," said Brown.

Brown is one of 3,800 ex-felons in Virginia to have their voting rights restored by Governor Bob McDonnell-the most of any governor to date. But that still leaves more than 350,000 people, or six percent of the voting-age population, disenfranchised.

The power to restore voting rights lies solely with the governor and the criteria for approving requests for voting rights varies with each sitting governor.

""I think the basic question is, has the person stayed out of trouble, have they made amends, are they ready to reintegrate into society," said Del. Rob Bell (R) 58th District.

But critics say this process is too slow. Virginia is one of only four states where ex-felons have to appeal to the governor to restore their voting rights.

"Many of us involved in law enforcement believe that is the right way to do it," said Bell. "When a person is arrested and convicted, we don't treat them all the same. We have a jury who decides what happened, a judge who reviews the verdict. All of those things happen on a case by case basis and I think it ought to be the same on the other side, after they serve their sentence, what happens next."

But others say after you pay your debt to society, voting rights should be automatic.

"I think everybody should have their voting rights restored," said Brown. "Everybody should be able to vote and be able to have someone to run the country who will make a better life for everyone."

The process to have voting rights restored in Virginia is extensive. Applicants convicted of a nonviolent offense must wait two years to apply and applicants convicted of a violent offense or a crime against a minor must wait five years and fill out at 12-page form.

To date, Governor McDonnell has approved 90 percent of applications from nonviolent offenders and 80 percent from violent offenders.


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