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Virginia legislators hope to restore former felons' voting rights

As the 2024 legislative session begins, an effort to amend Virginia’s constitution to give former felons the right to vote is on the docket. Advocates argue the current requirement for the governor to authorize rights restoration disproportionately impacts Black voters.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ

The issue is important enough to Democrats that it was among the  first bills submitted this session. Patroned by Alexandria-area Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Hampton-area Senator Mamie Locke, the effort would change Virginia’s constitution to remove language requiring gubernatorial approval of former felon’s request for voting rights and replace it with a guarantee of that right once they leave state custody.

Bennett-Parker said about one in seven Black people lack the right to vote in Virginia because of the law, and her professional work with the formerly incarcerated, including one former felon who had her rights eventually restored, showed how important the issue was.

“She cried for 30 minutes when she got her voting rights restored because it was so important to her to feel like she was finally able to be a full part of our society,” the delegate told Radio IQ.

A similar effort passed in 2021 when Democrats last had control of both chambers, but when Republicans gained House control in 2022, it failed. Now, it’ll have to pass this year and in 2026 before going to the voters.

NAACP of Virginia legislative coordinator Tyee Mallory said her group supported the effort but wasn’t sure of support this year.

“Obviously, the conditions exist now in the General Assembly that we feel favorable that this amendment will pass, but that is not a guarantee,” Mallory said at a press conference Monday.

One person who won't be supporting the effort is Lynchburg-area Republican Senator Mark Peake. He said the broad nature of the amendment, including returning rights to violent felons, turned him off.

“I like the way we have it where a governor and his staff reviews it,” he said.

The bill’s first stop will be in a House subcommittee in the coming weeks.