Editorial: Voting, for Former Felons and Others

In a Democracy, we’re best served by more voter participation.

Today, the Virginia Supreme Court will hear an expedited challenge to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) restoration of the voting and civil rights of more than 200,000 Virginians who were convicted of felonies, served their time and completed any supervised release, parole or probation requirements.

The restoration of voting rights moves Virginia into the mainstream. Virginia had been one of four most restrictive states with lifetime bans on voting for those convicted of felonies. Fourteen states automatically restore voting rights once the individual’s term of incarceration is over, and two states allow absentee voting from prison. Only 10 states have more restrictive policies than McAuliffe’s order about voting for people who have been convicted of felonies.

While the perception is that such a move will favor Democrats, in a Democracy, it’s better for all when more people vote.

According to statistics released by the governor’s office, 51.5 percent of those whose voting rights have been restored by McAuliffe’s order are white; 45.9 percent are African American. Eighty percent were convicted of nonviolent offenses. Almost half had been completed both their sentences and supervision more than 10 years ago.

McAuliffe said: “If we are going to build a stronger and more equal Virginia, we must break down barriers to participation in civic life for people who return to society seeking a second chance. We must welcome them back and offer the opportunity to build a better life by taking an active role in our democracy.”

This action brings Virginia into line with 39 other states, with more than 20 states having less restrictive policies. For example, on Feb. 9, 2016, the Maryland General Assembly restored the vote to all convicted felons immediately upon their release from prison. Previously, people convicted of felonies in Maryland had to complete all parole and probation before they were able to vote.

In Virginia, such individuals still are required to complete their term of incarceration and their term of probation or parole before voting rights are restored.

MEANWHILE, for all Virginia voters, the deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 8, 2016 general election is Oct. 17. You can verify your voter status at https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation. This is especially important to do if you have moved or have not voted recently.

In person absentee voting begins Sept. 23.

It’s an important election, with Virginia playing a critical role in the outcome of the race for U.S. President. There will also be many important local issues on the ballot, along with the races for U.S. Congress.