Virginia Governor Advocates for Automatic Restoration of Rights

On the heels of the NAACP’s ongoing Restore the Votes Campaign, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced support for automatic restoration of voting rights for people with non-violent felony convictions during his 2013 State of the Commonwealth Address.

In the address McDonnell stated:

“While we have significantly improved and fast-tracked the restoration of civil rights process, it’s still an executive process. As a nation that believes in redemption and second chances, we must provide a clear path for willing individuals to be productive members of society once they have served their sentences and paid their fines and restitution. It is time for Virginia to join most of the other states and make the restoration of civil rights an automatic process for non-violent offenders.”

According to data provided by the Administration’s office, the governor has restored the votes of 4,423 returning citizens since the start of his administration in 2010.  At the launch of the NAACP campaign in October, the state restored the vote of Kemba Smith-Pradia, a leading advocate in the fight for voting rights of former offenders, who was granted executive clemency and released in 2000.

“Governor McDonnell is again leading the way for states still practicing felony disenfranchisement to eradicate themselves from antiquated and racially biased disenfranchisement laws,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President & CEO of the NAACP.  “As we continue to fight these battles on the ground, we hope that legislatures across the United States and especially in Kentucky, Iowa, Florida and Virginia make automatic restoration of rights a permanent fix in their state constitutions.”

Other states are beginning to follow suit. On December 28, 2012, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad released a more streamlined restoration of voting rights application for returning citizens, removing unnecessary credit checks and adjusting payment policies.

“The governor signaled a huge shift ahead for policies blocking certain citizens from the ballot box,” said King Salim Khalfani, Executive Director of the NAACP Virginia State Conference. “We agree that the state has done more to restore the votes of returning citizens than any other state lacking automatic restoration of rights, but as Virginians we can only really claim victory when all returning citizens are guaranteed the right to vote.”

The NAACP has been a longtime advocate for automatic restoration in Virginia. For years, NAACP leadership has met and continues to meet with the governor and key staff on issues surrounding voting rights.

The Restore the Votes Campaign aims to restore the rights for millions of citizens formerly convicted of felonies.  The campaign was launched in October following the NAACP’s delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.  As part of the visit, the delegation held a panel discussion on felony disenfranchisement and the attack on voting rights in states across the nation.

“The Restore the Votes campaign was launched to address the issue of felony disenfranchisement not just state by state, but nationally,” said Jotaka Eaddy, Senior Director of Voting Rights at the NAACP. “Continuously bringing awareness to the issue has led to the huge steps we have witnessed in Iowa and Virginia in the past few weeks, and we will continue to advocate until the voting rights of all citizens are restored.”

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