Friday, March 07, 2008

Did You Know Ex-Felons Have to Ask for the Return of Civil Rights?

I didn't! But according to Charlottesville/Albemarle League of Women Voters Newsletter, ex-felons who have paid their debts to society have to go through paperwork hell to get some of their Civil Rights back, including the right to vote.

Before you jump in and say "But they are felons!" remember that a felon could have been someone with a non-violent drug related charge but has since cleaned up. It could be a person who had a DUI and was driving with a suspended license but has not done so since (and didn't run anyone over). It could be a broke mother willfully passing bad checks. But no matter what that person was "in for," he/she has had to pay back society in jail. Why should they be held up so long in the restoration of their rights?

Four to five percent of the population are unable to vote in Virginia. Think about how close some elections are--many candidates win or lose by only that percentage.

The racial implications are also a concern. Half of the prison population are African Americans.

When half of the prisons are comprised of African Americans, what happens to the community's voice?


Background information: Restoration of Civil Rights of Felons

Only the Governor in Virginia has the authority to restore civil rights to felons. These civil rights include the right to vote, to hold public office, to serve on juries, and to serve as a Notary Public.

Over the years, different governors have had differing procedures and differing degrees of support for restoration.

In 2002, Governor Mark Warner streamlined the paperwork required for ex-offenders to regain their voting rights and reduced the waiting period for non-violent offenders to begin that process. During his four-year term, he restored voting rights to 3,414 Virginians, exceeding the combined total for all governors in the previous 20 years.

A former felon may begin the paperwork required three or five years after completing his sentence, parole and/or payment of fines. A one-page application to the Governor after three years begins the process for a non-violent felony while a 6-page form after five years, including three letters of reference, is required for someone convicted of a violent felony.

An estimated 240,000-300,000 Virginian citizens are unable to vote because they are ex-felons: this represents 4-5% of Virginia citizens who are age 18 or older.

About half of these citizens are African-American. As many as one out of every six African-American men in Virginia cannot register to vote for this reason.

information courtesy of

Charlottesville/Albemarle League of Women Voters

Newsletter Editor, Michele Kellermann
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