Last week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restored 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.
This moves Virginia into the mainstream; only 10 states have more restrictive policies about voting for people who have been convicted of felonies. Previously, Virginia had been one of the most restrictive states in terms of restoring voting rights. Fourteen states automatically restore voting rights once the individual’s term of incarceration is over, and two states allow absentee voting from prison.
While some claim partisan motivation, with most of those affected presumed to be Democrats, getting these men and women registered to vote and to the polls is unlikely to result in 100,000 new voters in November. Studies show that people who were previously convicted of felonies who are eligible to vote register and vote at lower levels than the general population, according to the New York Times http://nyti.ms/26kNrS2, with a registration rate of around 30 percent and about 20 percent actually voting, although some suggest voting rates of between 10-15 percent. If, as the studies suggest, 55 percent of those would vote Democratic, then likely new Democratic voters would be around 22,000.
While that’s a lot less than 200,000, it’s also more than the margin of victory in quite a few statewide races. Consider that Attorney General Mark Herring (D) won his race by about 900 votes out of more than 2 million cast. These new voters could have an impact on statewide races.
Districts for members of Virginia’s General Assembly are so gerrymandered, it’s hard to imagine that the impact of these new voters will be huge in terms of local representation.
In a Democracy, it’s better when more people vote.
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.”
Again, 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 overrode the Governor's veto and restored the vote to all convicted felons immediately upon their release from prison. Previously, people convicted felonies in Maryland had to complete all parole and probation before they were able to vote. In Virginia, such individuals have to complete their term of incarceration and their term of probation or parole before voting rights are restored.