Over the course of this year, Governor McAuliffe has worked hard to overcome Republican obstacles to give Virginians who made a mistake and served their time a voice in their democracy again. Since the July Supreme Court decision the Governor has restored the rights of 79,047 Virginians and a total of 97,007 since the start of his administration.
Leading up to the elections last week, 20,889 of the ex-felons restored by the Governor had registered to vote. These citizens live in communities across the Commonwealth; they have jobs and families, and pay their taxes. However, for many it was their first time voting or their first time in many years. As the stories presented below demonstrate, the Governor’s actions were not about partisan politics – they were motivated by a belief in second chances and the principal that our society works better when everyone has a voice in our future.
The Washington Post
When Sylvester Hall was convicted of buying $25 worth of cigarettes with another man’s bank check in 1978, he lost a year of his life to jail, his livelihood and his home. And the Virginia man lost another thing of value: the right to vote.
On Tuesday, the 79-year-old Hall cast a ballot in Falls Church, the first time since voting for Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Hall, who is African American, tried to vote in 2008. He lined up at Bailey Community Center before sunrise that November morning eight years ago to vote for Barack Obama. He had not attempted to vote since he had been released from jail, but seeing an African American so close to the White House inspired him. But a poll worker turned him away, saying he was no longer on the rolls. His felony conviction, then three decades old, would keep him from voting.
Richmond Justice (Audio)
On November 8, 2016, Kenneth Williams voted for the first time. Though he completed a prison sentence for robbery 30 years ago, this 67 year-old Richmond resident lacked voting rights until Governor Terry McAulliffe restored them earlier this year. Kenneth is one of more than 206,000 Virginians who had lost the right to vote due to incarceration. Most states restore voting rights automatically after incarcerated individuals have completed their sentences; Virginia requires an application and approval by the Governor.
Kenneth owns a contracting firm, and, along with his wife, Alfreda, directs the Adult Alternative Program, a nonprofit that trains formerly incarcerated people to be licensed contractors. Kenneth and Alfreda are currently raising funds to expand their work.
The Daily Progress
More than four decades ago, when Bryant was a teenager, he was convicted of theft three separate times and spent about 18 years behind bars. When he got out the third and final time 31 years ago, Bryant said enough was enough.
“I regret what I did — it was a mistake and I didn’t have to go back two or three times, but that third time woke me up,” Bryant said in August. “I had a daughter that was born in 1981, and that just opened up my eyes.”
Every Election Day for nearly 30 years, people have told Terry Garrett, that she couldn’t vote. Garrett was convicted of a felony for shoplifting at 18 years old and was stripped of her right to decide which people governed her community, her state and her nation.
On the cold crisp morning of Nov. 8, Garrett, the mother of four, made her own personal history. She walked from her house three minutes to the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria, Va. with two of her daughters, Iterria Garrett and Candace Garrett, and voted the first time in her life.
“Even though we’ve made mistakes, we have a voice,” she said. “We’ve been told for so long that we don’t count and a lot of us still feel that way. Let your voice be heard and get your rights back.”
A 47-year-old Richmond woman voted for the very first time Tuesday. Deborah Bethea lost her right to vote 23 years ago after a felony conviction.
“I was with the wrong people,” Deborah Bethea told 8News. She completed her sentence in 2004.
Bethea says Governor McAuliffe’s executive order restoring the rights of felons changed the way she thought about elections.
His walk to the polls is only a mile long, but his journey to the ballot box started years ago. At 53 years old, Abdul-Rahman is voting for the first time in his life.
Just after 9:00 am, Muhammad emerged from the Community Center cradling the sticker that voters are given to prove they cast a vote. On election days, the internet is filled with selfies of people proudly wearing their stickers, before it’s ripped off and tossed in the trash. But Muhammad was simply staring down at the piece of paper in his hands. “I’m saving it,” he explained, before starting the walk home.
William Lafferty got to vote for the first time in his life Tuesday.
“I worked hard to get to where I am now and I worked hard to be able to have a voice in our community,” said Lafferty, who went to school and began working as a mechanic upon his release four years ago.
He chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, but said he felt more strongly about voting in favor of a constitutional amendment that would give a property tax exemption to the spouses of police officers, firefighters and other first responders who die in the line of duty.
He walks away from the booth and starts to sing in a beautiful baritone, loud enough for voters in other booths and the 100-plus people waiting in the auditorium to hear his voice.
He goes down the path toward the parking lot, past people waiting in line. He raises his flag in the air and waves it.
He pauses again. Longer this time. A tear gathers and then hangs fat under his right eye. He wipes it. “I’ll cherish this day – this day – for the rest of my life.”