RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced that he and his team have begun restoring the civil rights of former Virginia felons in compliance with an order by the Virginia Supreme Court.
Speaking at a press conference at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial in Richmond, the Governor announced that he has already restored the rights of nearly 13,000 Virginians who had previously registered to vote before the court’s ruling stripped them of their rights.
The Governor also announced the detailed process he will use to evaluate the cases of individuals who may qualify to have their rights restored based on the objective criteria he has established.
“Restoring the rights of Virginians who have served their time and live, work and pay taxes in our communities is one of the pressing civil rights issues of our day,” said Governor McAuliffe. “I have met these men and women and know how sincerely they want to contribute to our society as full citizens again.
“The process I have announced today fully complies with the Virginia Supreme Court’s order and the precedent of governors before me. It also reflects the clear authority the Governor possesses to use his own discretion to restore rights of people who have served their time.
“The history of civil rights in Virginia has at times been a difficult one. Opponents have often succeeded in delaying or undermining efforts to move our Commonwealth forward – but in the end progress has always prevailed. This time will be no different.
“It is my hope that the approach we announced today marks the end of the partisan battles that have been waged over this issue so that every Virginian leader can play a role in welcoming these individuals back to society and building a Commonwealth of greater justice, equality and opportunity for every family.”
Today the administration launched a new web portal (www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/ror) for Virginians to access more information about the process and how it impacts them.
The McAuliffe administration also shared the following memo with Commonwealth’s Attorneys, members of the Virginia General Assembly and local elections officials across the Commonwealth. That memo is below:
Governor McAuliffe’s Restoration of Rights Policy
August 22, 2016
Restoring the rights of individuals who have served their time and reentered society is the right thing to do. Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement policy is rooted in a tragic history of voter suppression and marginalization of minorities, and it needs to be overturned. While Virginians continue to wait for the General Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment to permanently repeal this policy, the Governor is committed to doing everything in his power to restore the rights of Virginians who have completed their sentences.
The Constitution of Virginia grants the Governor the sole authority to restore the rights of individuals who have been convicted of a felony. While it is our position that the Governor’s April 22nd action was clearly constitutional by any reasonable standard, he will proceed with individual restorations in accordance with the Virginia Supreme Court’s order and the precedent of governors before him.
Today, the Governor is announcing next steps to proceed with individually restoring the rights of persons who have served their time and completed supervised release. This process is fair and transparent and fully complies with the restrictions outlined in the July 22nd Supreme Court decision. These actions stem from Governor McAuliffe’s belief in the power of second chances and his determination that our Commonwealth will no longer treat these individuals like second class citizens.
It is the Governor’s hope that this will be the last phase of this battle over the civil rights of these individuals, and that opponents of these actions will recognize his clear authority as well as the morality behind it. As we have seen, there are some in our society who believe people who commit felonies should lose their rights forever, despite having served the sentence that a judge and jury imposed for their crime. And there are others who believe a subjective evaluation of the severity of a person’s crime should determine whether that individual is worthy to have his or her rights restored. As his actions demonstrate, Governor McAuliffe has faith in our criminal justice system and its ability to impose different sentences on different individuals in relation to the particular nature and circumstances of their offenses. After offenders serve those sentences, he believes they should have equal access under the law to have their rights restored. If a person is judged to be safe to live in the community, he or she should have a full voice in its governance.
Any action of this size and historic nature is difficult to perform without some administrative error. As the information below demonstrates, identifying these individuals (some of whom have been disenfranchised for decades) and restoring their rights is a significant undertaking of numerous state agencies that maintain information in different ways. The process we designed includes a multi-step review to ensure that the individuals being considered for restoration fully meet the Governor’s criteria. However, it is possible that there will be discrepancies from time to time, and we will work to fix them as soon as they are identified. The difficulty of this administrative undertaking is not an excuse, however, for leaving hundreds of thousands of people disenfranchised.
The Governor’s process moving forward is outlined below.
STEP 1: Re-restoring the rights of individuals who had their voter registration canceled as a result of the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision:
STEP 2: Restoring the rights of other qualified individuals.
If you know of individuals who wish to have their rights restored, please have them submit a request on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/ror. Individuals without internet access can call the SOC at 804-692-0104 or mail-in a contact form.