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Virginia Gives Many Former Felons Permission to Vote

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In Civil Rights Victory, Virginia Restores Voting Rights for Hundreds of Thousands Nonviolent Felons

In a major victory for voting rights, Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has announced he will automatically restore voting rights for people with nonviolent felony convictions. His decision will eliminate the two-year waiting period and petition process that currently disenfranchises thousands of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences and satisfied all the conditions of their punishments. According to the Sentencing Project, 350,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences remained disenfranchised in 2010. We speak to Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of NAACP, which has been on the forefront of the campaign to restore voting rights to former felons. The news comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue a major ruling that could decide the future of the Voting Rights Act.  Please click here to see this video episode. It explains the issues behind this very welcome development. This is really great news.  It doesn’t, however, change Virginia’s constitution and it is based on an executive decree, which another governor can simply recind. So the title of the piece is a little misleading since it doesn’t change anyones voting rights, it simply restores the ability of a class of non-violent former felons to vote.
I have written extensively on voting rights.  What rights you have regarding voting is determined by which state you happen to live.  The federal constitution only limits the ability of states to discriminate based on age, race, gender and such. States’ constitutionally explicit voting rights are much vary greatly and are not as comprehensive as most citizens would believe.  What isn’t explicit in constitutional language, however, is usually provided in state statues so that voting in every state looks much more uniform and universal than it actually is.   For more on state-by-state constitutional voting rights, click here.
In addition to general voting rights outlined in state constitutions, most states have constitutional exceptions as to who may or may not be allowed to vote.  Below is a table which shows common voter qualification and disqualifications as contained in the state constitutions.
Number of States WithThis Right
Percent of US Population With ThisRight
Must be A US Citizen
Must be Registered to vote
State’s Deployed Solders Can Vote
Felony Exception
Treason Exception
Incarceration Exception
Mental Capacity Exception
Moral Conduct or other Exception
Restoration from Exception
No quartered solders
Right to Appeal Voter Ineligibility
The greatest variation among state constitutions involves voter disqualifications.  Thirty-seven states don’t allow felons to vote and twelve states also include treason as a voter disqualification, but there are differences in how broadly or narrowly these exceptions are defined. http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/04/can-convicted-felon-vote-major.html
State statute laws and policies create a certian amount of lattitude to manipulate the voter roles. This has become a problem in recent election cycles.  Here is just one example pertaining to felons that appeared in the Huffington Post prior to the last presidential election.
Posted: 07/12/2012 3:01 pm Updated: 07/12/2012 3:08 pm
Michael McLaughlin

“A record number of Americans with criminal records cannot vote in what is expected to be a tight presidential election, a new study says.

More than 5.85 million adults who’ve been convicted of a felony aren’t welcome at polling places, according to data through 2010 compiled by The Sentencing Project. That’s 600,000 more than in 2004, the last time the nonprofit group crunched the numbers.

“The vast majority of these disenfranchised adults have been released from prison. Sentencing Project researchers found more than 4 million Americans who cannot cast a ballot because they’re on probation or parole, or live in a state that withholds the right to vote from all ex-felons.


  • More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities.
  • For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.
These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on
drugs,” in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. – The Sentencing Project



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