Starting in November, the state of Virginia will grant voting rights to about 200,000 individuals who have been convicted of felonies, the Washington Post reports. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced today that ex-felons who are not currently in prison, on parole or on probation may register to vote so that they can cast their ballot in the upcoming presidential election.
Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the New Virginia Majority, expressed a favorable opinion about McAuliffe’s decision, telling the Washington Post that it was “a historic day for democracy in Virginia and across our nation” and expressing that previous bars to vote were a “discriminatory vestige of our nation’s Jim Crow past.”
Co-Director of the Advancement Project Judith Brown Dianis told the Washington Post that laws preventing ex-felons from the ballot had a “disparate impact on communities of color who have been historically targeted by our nation’s broken system of incarceration.”
The Washington Post cites a recent estimate from The Sentencing Project that 1 out of every 13 African-American individuals is prevented from voting, with the article suggesting that this is linked with limitations to convicts’ voting rights.
The states vary widely in the scope of rights granted to people who have been convicted of crimes. California allows all people who are not in prison or on parole to vote, including anyone who has been previously convicted of criminal charges. However, states such as Kentucky and Iowa permanently revoke voting rights from those who have been convicted for felony charges.
The process of regaining voting rights also varies between states, and has been criticized by some experts as being complicated and costly. Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander calls the process “a bureaucratic maze” that can be so frustrating that ex-convicts give up on getting their voting rights back.
McAuliffe made key strides to streamlining the process, cutting down on paperwork and waiving a rule that required ex-felons to pay for standing court fees before they could vote. With a more intuitive process of regaining voting rights, the thousands of ex-felons that could not influence Virginia’s political climate have an increased opportunity to sway national polls come November.