“In a democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege. Yet in our democracy, well over five million Americans are unable to participate in this most basic, fundamental right of citizenship because of past criminal convictions. As many as four million of these people live, work, and raise families in our communities, but because of past convictions are still denied the right to vote.” — ACLU
Something extraordinary has happened in the Commonwealth. I am a Virginia girl — born and raised. We are traditionally a conservative strong-hold. Home of the Capitol of the Confederacy, one of the first states to adopt Confederate History Month. Typically as red as red can be. Now mind you we did go blue for President Obama both in 2008 and 2012, but that is just the changing tide of Virginians -mostly due to the demographic changes in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads areas. But really this year already something amazing has happened that delighted and surprised me, then made me just as angry and cranky as normal.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia (no we aren’t just a “state”), if you are adjudicated a felon your voting rights are revoked, along with your rights to own a firearm (so much for this talk about everyone’s 2nd Amendment right to carry…because I sure haven’t seen the NRA advocating for felons to have their carrying privilege reinstated….things that make you go *cough* bullcrap *cough*). In most states, including the Commonwealth — there is a process to having your voting rights restored (sorry, still negative on gun ownership). However, in some states you can loose your rights to vote for life (source: ACLU). The ACLU states that there are rougly 5.3 million Americans who are disenfranchised from voting due to “a criminal conviction, most of which are non-violent in nature, thirty-nine percent have fully completed their sentences, including probation and parole, yet such individuals are still deprived of their right to vote. In several states, people with criminal records encounter a variety of other barriers to voting, including, most often, cumbersome restoration processes or lengthy waiting periods before rights restoration applications may even be submitted.” Further, this disenfranchisement disproportionately effects communities of color due to their historical roots in the Jim Crow era. The ACLU states that roughly 1.4 million of the above cited 5.3 million American’s who are disenfranchised are African-Americans. Voting disenfranchisement codes in states like Mississippi, stem from specifically intended constitutional changes that removed voting rights for crimes that were shown to be committed most often by African-Americans.