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Disenfranchisement News: Virginia Gov. McAuliffe Enacts Historic Voting Rights Restoration

April 26, 2016
Virginia restores voting rights to 200K people, Maryland grassroots organization brings new voters to the polls and more in our latest Disenfranchisement News.

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Virginia governor restores voting rights to 200K people with prior felony convictions

Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order to immediately restore voting rights to an estimated 200,000 people who have completed their felony prison, probation and parole sentence. Virginia is one of only four states in the nation – along with Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky – to disenfranchise all individuals with felony convictions for life, unless they can secure a pardon from the governor. McAuliffe’s decision will remain in effect until at least the end of his term in January 2018. The executive order does not cover people who are released in the future.  According to his aides, McAuliffe intends to issue similar executive orders each month to continue to restore rights to people as they complete their sentences.

“This will be the single most significant action on disenfranchisement that we’ve ever seen from a governor,” said The Sentencing Project’s Executive Director Marc Mauer in The New York Times.“It’s noteworthy that it’s coming in the middle of this term, not the day before he leaves office. So there may be some political heat but clearly he’s willing to take that on, which is quite admirable.”

The announcement drew criticism from Republicans, who viewed McAuliffe’s executive order as a way to help the Democratic frontrunner for president, Hillary Clinton. McAuliffe was the chairman of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. McAuliffe’s office denied that the move was political, saying the order builds off policies he’s already taken to restore voting rights to 18,000 Virginians since he took office.

Virginia previously had the fourth highest rate of felony disenfranchisement in the nation and the third highest for African Americans. “There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” said McAuliffe.

Kentucky passes law to make it easier for people with felony convictions to restore their civil rights

Republican Governor Matt Bevin recently signed a bill into law that will allow “tens of thousands of Kentuckians” to have their criminal records expunged and their voting rights restored. Under House Bill 40, a person with a non-violent, non-sexual felony conviction can apply for expungement five years after the end of their felony prison, probation or parole sentence. A court hearing would then decide whether or not to expunge the record. “It is critical that there is an opportunity for redemption that there is an opportunity for second chances because America is a land that was founded on these principles,” Bevin said. The law will go into effect in July.

Communities United brings new Maryland voters to the polls

Earlier this year the Maryland legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto, extending voting rights to individuals currently on probation or parole supervision. Activists from Communities United have registered nearly 5,000 new voters since the law went into effect on March 10th — primarily targeting West Baltimore neighborhoods and housing projects. Two weeks before Maryland’s primary, Communities United held a forum for the city’s mayoral candidates to reach out and address the needs of Baltimore’s new voting population. The group offered free rides to polling locations during Maryland’s early voting period.

Communities United volunteer Trina Ashley celebrated being able to cast her vote for the first time. Ashley said she was excited to finally have a say in the city’s housing, education, and employment policies that make life harder for people with felony convictions.

Communities United activist

(Source: The Washington Post via Jokpeme News)
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