Restoring Voting Rights to Convicted Felons

By: Karen Campbell Email
By: Karen Campbell Email

Once a convicted felon, many civil rights are taken away, including the right to vote.

Those rights are not automatically restored in Virginia.

Beverly Thompson, a volunteer with the Augusta County Corrections Center says she and others want to help change that.

Virginia is one of only four states that strips a person's civil rights, after being convicted of a felony.

"They can't get it back unless they do a lot of paperwork," said Thompson who tries to help inmates regain their voting rights.

Thompson says that paperwork is inside a 30 page booklet called, 'Virginia Civil Rights Restoration Guide.'

"It was so confusing because even though I had the instructor on the phone and the document on the computer screen in front of me, i still felt at a loss," said Thompson.

Thompson says everyone should have the right to vote.

"It makes me think of voter suppression and I don't say that word lightly. The media has said in recent past that Governor McDonnell has restored more voting rights than other governors, but it's still not enough. It's still a drop in the bucket," said Thompson.

According to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy organization that promotes reforms in sentencing policy and advocates for alternatives to incarceration, 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws against convicted felons.

Nearly 378,000 have lost their right to vote in Virginia. That's nearly seven percent of the population.

Governor McDonell has restored rights to more than 2,500 convicted felons.

McDonnell has to sign off on each and every application to restore voting rights.

Thompson says she and others feel that voting rights should be automatically restored, after the criminal shows proof of payment of any fees or restitution.

"Once it's paid, I wish that the governor would just accept the receipts and then write the person back and say now you can vote," said Thompson.

According to the ACLU, McDonnell is encouraging all convicted felons to apply to have their voting rights restored so he can expedite those applications to allow people to vote in the November elections.

For more information on The Sentencing Project, log onto www.sentencingproject.org.

To find more information about the voter restoration application process, log onto www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/JudicialSystem/Clemency/restoration.cfm.


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