Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) restored the voting rights of 69,000 former felons on Tuesday through executive action, the governor's office announced in a statement.
Why it matters: Northam's move to expand voting rights comes amidst a wider push across the country to restrict voting rights. As of mid-February, 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills that include voting restrictions, according to CNN.
- Last year Florida introduced new rules to limit some ex-felons' voting rights, even after the state voted to restore voting rights to former convicts in 2018.
The big picture: Northam also reformed Virginia's restoration of rights process using new eligibility criteria similar to those proposed in a possible amendment to the state's constitution. In the future any citizen will qualify to have their civil rights restored to them upon completing their prison term, "even if they remain on community supervision."
- Current laws in Virginia state that, "anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm," the statement notes.
- The law also gives the governor the sole discretion to restore such rights.
What they're saying: “Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said in the statement.
- “If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that," he added.
What's next: Earlier this year the state's General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore a person's civil rights upon the completion of their prison sentence.
- The amendment must be passed again by the GA in 2022 before moving to a voter referendum.