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Civil Rights Organizations Applaud Virginia Governor’s Move to Expand Democracy, Restore Voting Rights for Persons With Prior Felony Convictions

WASHINGTON – Today, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a proclamation that will make all persons with past felony convictions eligible to register to vote so long as they are not in prison or on probation or parole. Estimates project that between 180,000 and 206,000 Virginians who were previously disenfranchised will now be eligible to vote. Virginians who believe they may be directly impacted by the action can identify if they are on the list of persons with restored voting rights at Grassroots group, The New Virginia Majority, and the national racial justice organization, Advancement Project, released the following statement in response to the governor’s action:

“It is a historic day for democracy in Virginia – and across our nation,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of The New Virginia Majority. “The disenfranchisement of people who have served their sentences was an outdated, discriminatory vestige of our nation’s Jim Crow past. Virginians rejoining their communities will now regain their voice in our democracy without facing roadblocks to the ballot. Today’s news is welcomed progress for grassroots advocates who have worked alongside these Virginians for years to advocate for their full inclusion in our democracy. We have drawn motivation from their countless stories and enduring commitment to fulfill their civic duties and participate in the political process – even when the system has so often let them down. We celebrate today knowing the countless benefits of restoring the right to vote – including reduced recidivism rates and the fulfillment of our democratic values. Our community is stronger today.”

“Today’s announcement is rooted in the tireless efforts of grassroots groups in Virginia who pushed their state to fulfill the promise of a just democracy,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “No one should be deprived of their fundamental right to vote. Today, hundreds of thousands of Virginians are set to regain their voice in our political process. These Americans have paid their debt to society and should be given back their voting rights. All who believe in freedom and equality should celebrate today. These laws that disenfranchise voters based on prior mistakes have deeply impacted communities of color who have been targeted by our nation’s broken criminal justice system. This was clear in Virginia. We applaud the governor for taking action to correct this discriminatory system. The Commonwealth can now welcome formerly incarcerated people to fully rejoin their communities and stand alongside their neighbors at the voting booth. While we celebrate today in Virginia, we know the work continues in states like Florida, where more than 1.4 million people face a lifetime without the fundamental right to vote. We hope the governor’s action in Virginia will serve as a new model to advance justice where work remains across this nation.”

“Our justice system is built on the principals of redemption – that people may redeem themselves from past mistakes and be welcomed home to their communities,” said Eddie Hailes, Jr., Advancement Project general counsel and managing director. “Denying formerly incarcerated people the right to vote undermines the foundation of our justice system and the tenants of an inclusive democracy. We are thrilled that the Governor of Virginia recognized this and cleared a path to the ballot for hundreds of thousands of people reentering their communities. Over my years working to help restore voting rights for individuals in Virginia, I met countless individuals each with a different story. I watched a veteran roll his wheelchair into a restoration workshop. An American flag was wrapped around the leg he sacrificed to serve his country. All he wanted was the right to vote. I am overjoyed today that this most fundamental right has been restored immediately for the thousands more Virginians who wanted nothing more than he did: a vote.”

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Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.

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