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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Virginia makes it difficult for ex-offenders to get their voting rights restored

If you or someone you know is a convicted felon who wants to vote in the upcoming presidential election, you’ll need to get started now to get your voting rights restored. It’s an arduous process, but well worth it.

There are about 350,000 convicted felons in Virginia, and the state has one of the nation’s most onerous restoration-of-rights laws. In Virginia, a convicted felon cannot get his or her rights restored unless they receive an official approval from the governor. That can take a long time, and the deadline to register is Oct. 15, so it’s important to begin the process as soon as possible.

A person convicted of a nonviolent offense can apply two years after the termination of supervised probation if he or she has had no misdemeanors in the previous three years, no DUIs in the previous five years, and has paid all fines.

Former felons convicted of a violent crime, serious drug offense, or certain nonviolent serious crimes can’t apply until five years after the end of supervised probation. They also need to complete a much longer application and get references to write letters on their behalf.

People who need help getting their voting rights restored are encouraged to get help from the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC). “We’ll help with the paperwork, obtain the appropriate public records from the court archives, send the request to Richmond, check to see if it’s approved, and help them register to vote,” says Executive Director Frank Anderson.

For Anderson, the restoration of voting rights has a personal resonance. “I fought long and hard to get my rights restored,” says Anderson, who had been convicted of burglary as a youth and managed to turn his life around, becoming a contributing member of society. 

It’s important to have one’s rights restored because employment applications often ask whether a person has been convicted of a crime, he says. If an applicant can produce a certificate signed by the governor stating his rights have been restored, that should be helpful in getting a job.

Also, there have been studies showing that people who vote are more invested in their community. A 2011 study by the Florida Parole Commission found former felons who have had their civil rights restored were much less likely to end up in prison again. Plus, it’s only fair—if we want people to be good citizens, they should be able to vote, which is one of the major rights of citizenship.

So far, the FCDC has helped about a dozen people this year, says Anderson. It’s been a difficult process. The committee started working with one client in April and wasn’t able to get his rights restored and registered until July, for example. Another client had been convicted in the 1970s, so it was difficult finding the old court records.

“We’re a punitive society,” Anderson says when asked why Virginia has such a restrictive law. Attempts to change it have not succeeded because, “we don’t like change, and people don’t care that other states have better processes.”

Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia are the only states that require ex-prisoners to petition to the government to have their rights restored.

Several states automatically restore people’s civil rights when they are released from prison. Other states restore people’s rights automatically when they are released from parole. Maine and Vermont actually let prisoners vote.

To begin the process of getting your voting rights restored, contact FCDC by phone, 703/573-6811, or email.


  1. Why should all Felons get their voting rights back? You killed someone should you get your rights back? You stab or shot someone should you get your rights back? You rape someone should you get your rights back? Where is the line? If a Felon took someone's rights away that they will never get back why should Felons get their rights back?

  2. If you've served your time, you've served your time. If you killed someone, you should be in jail and unable to vote for a long time (unless you're in VT or ME, according to the article). Ditto the rape charge. Whether sentences for these crimes are long enough, well, that's a different story.

    "A 2011 study by the Florida Parole Commission found former felons who have had their civil rights restored were much less likely to end up in prison again."

  3. "Where is the line? If a Felon took someone's rights away that they will never get back why should Felons get their rights back?"

    Because two wrongs don't make a right? (Of course, as that other Anonymous noted above, letting the felon out of prison too early -- whenever that might be -- could have also been a second wronging.)

    Something to keep in mind is that not all felons are murderers. You are a felon, and so am I. Everybody in the USA commits at least a few felonys every year. There are so many laws now, that everybody commits felonies without knowing it all the time. So be careful what you wish for.

  4. The victims will never get their rights back neither should the perpetrator. That is wonderful that the felon feels better but what about the victims of the crime. When do they get their sense of security back. Child rapist is some states are still only getting three to four years.

  5. how does it benefit the victim of say, a burglary or car theft, that the perp is kept from voting decades after the crime?

    I have an idea - how about if the victim says voting is okay, then we allow voting. Cause this is about the victims right? Not about the demographics of the electorate.

  6. What about victimless crimes? Who decides then? Furthermore, there is nothing in the constitution that states you should lose you right to vote. In fact your right to vote is god given, when born in the US. I believe it is unconstitutional in the first place to remove anyone's right to vote.