Mar 27, 2023 - Politics

Youngkin’s rights restoration rollback

Photo illustration of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin with lines radiating from him.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Robb Hill/Washington Post via Getty Images

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has quietly ended a program to automatically restore felon voting rights.

What’s happening: Youngkin’s administration says it is now requiring former inmates to submit an application, which the administration is considering on a case-by-case basis, per Youngkin’s secretary of the commonwealth Kay Coles James.

Why it matters: It’s a significant departure from the approach spearheaded by the last Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, who more than a decade ago streamlined and automated the rights restoration process for nonviolent felons.

  • The result has been a sharp drop in the number of people whose voting rights were restored since Youngkin took office.

By the numbers: Youngkin reported restoring voting rights to about 3,500 people during his first five months in office while still relying on his predecessors’ criteria, per the Washington Post.

  • By the second half of the year, that number had dropped to about 800.

Of note: Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states that permanently disenfranchise residents convicted of any felony offenses, leaving restoration to the discretion of the governor.

Flashback: A decade ago, McDonnell cited his belief in forgiveness and second chances when he ended the practice of requiring nonviolent felons to apply individually to have their rights restored and eliminated a two-year waiting period.

  • Each successive governor has expanded the practice, with former Govs. Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam restoring rights to a combined 300,000 people.

The latest: Youngkin’s new approach came to light after lawmakers said they began fielding complaints from constituents and asked Youngkin’s administration if it had implemented a new policy.

  • In response, Youngkin’s administration clarified that it was no longer automating the process.
  • “Every applicant is different,” Coles James wrote.

What they’re saying: “The Constitution places the responsibility to consider Virginians for restoration in the hands of the Governor alone, and he does not take this lightly,” Youngkin’s press secretary, Macaulay Porter, told the Virginia Mercury.

The other side: “Once you have served your time, your rights should be restored for non-violent felons. Period,” Sen. Lionell Spruill, a Democrat who has been pressing Youngkin on the issue, said in a statement.


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