Rally calls for automatic restoration of voting rights for criminals when efforts run into obstacles

RICHMAND, Virginia (WRIC) – Dozens of advocates and former Virginia prisoners have banded together for a bill that potentially allows criminals to automatically regain their right to vote after release.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution was passed last year, but it must again receive approval from the General Assembly for the issue to go to a vote this fall.

The demonstration comes at a time when efforts are bumping into a checkpoint in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. Delegate of the Delegate Charniel Herring (D-Alexandria) never received a full hearing on the Privileges and Elections Commission after the Subcommittee rejected it by 6-4 votes.

The leadership of the Republican Party also abandoned procedural efforts to renew the proposal in the House of Representatives, even if one of their caucus members introduced a similar bill.

On the other side of the State Capitol, The Senate adopted the measure with the support of two parties. This means that in the second half of the session the House will have another chance to act on this issue.

Proponents of the bill marched Monday from the New Life Deliverance Tabernacle to the State Capitol.

Among those leading calls for change was New Virginia community organizer Marvin Brown.

After spending more than four years behind bars, Brown said he was released in June 2021. He appealed to then-Governor Ralph Nortem in hopes of returning to the polls as soon as possible.

“When I received a letter in which it was said in principle that I had the right to vote, I cried. I also cried when I felt that my right to vote was under threat, ”Brown said.

Brown said that by the time the process was completed, the 2021 election had come and gone.

“It was a devastating blow to me because I know what it’s like not to have the right to be heard.”

Current state law gives governors ample opportunity to be as lenient or strict as they want when it comes to restoring rights.

Northam took a few steps aimed at speeding up the process during its term.

Governor Glen Yangkin’s office did not answer questions about how he plans to handle the petitions and whether he supports the desire to automatically restore voting rights.

Senator Ryan McDougall (R-Hanover) believes the Senate bill goes too far.

“The process needs to be completed. Restitution must be paid. The probationary period should be completed and then the cases should be considered separately. Some of the accusations are very serious, ”McDougall said.

However, some supporters believe that the status quo actually deprives the African American population of the right to vote.

“Thousands of men and women are disenfranchised because of the law of the Jim Crow era, which still exists today and needs to be repealed. Why should people come home just to not be completely free, ”said Roger Hunt, organizer of the New Virginia community.

Asked to respond, Senator Bill DeStef (R-Virginia Beach) said: “The process does not consider human skin color. I think the process is considering whether you were behind bars or not, and what your crime was. ”

As for the future of the bill, Christopher Rashad Green, a Legal Aid Center activist, said lawmakers should allow Virginia voters to decide in a referendum.

“I think it will be very successful if we let people decide, not elected officials,” Green said.

Delegate to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Privileges and Elections Committee Margaret Ranson (R-Westmoreland) did not respond to an interview about her opposition to the constitutional amendment and whether it would be considered.

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