Virginia Gov Facing Suit Over Felon Voting Rights

( – Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin is being sued over the process he uses to decide which convicted felons in the state will have their voting rights restored.

A DC-based organization called Fair Elections Center filed the suit on behalf of Gregory Williams. Williams is a convicted felon who has completed his sentence and has applied to the state to have his voting rights restored. Another nonprofit, Nolef Turns in Richmond, Virginia, that advocates for convicted felons, is also a plaintiff in the suit.

The plaintiffs claim that Youngkin’s decision to stop automatically restoring felons’ rights after their sentence is complete, and to make them apply to the state for their rights, is unconstitutional. They say that Youngkin’s process is arbitrary and may condition the restoration of a felon’s rights based on his or her political affiliation or views.

Individuals convicted of felonies in Virginia automatically lose a number of rights under state law. These include the right to vote, run for office, carry a gun, or serve on a jury. However, state law does not automatically restore those rights after a felon completes their sentence. The Governor is allowed complete discretion over which former convicts get their rights restored, and which of those rights are restored to each person. The only exception is the right to carry a gun, which can only be restored by a court of law.

Youngkin confirms that he chose to abandon the prior practice in Virginia of automatically restoring rights to every felon after sentence completion. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kay Cole James, said felons are now given an application upon discharge, and the state considers each request individually.

The plaintiffs argued in their suit that this standard is illegal and must be changed. According to the suit, officials with unfettered discretion can selectively and arbitrarily decide not to restore a former convict’s rights on “pretextual” grounds.

Since taking office in 2022, Youngkin stated he has restored civil rights to 3,496 convicted felons. 

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