Virginia lawmakers are considering dueling proposals to restore voting rights for people convicted of a felony.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that there appears to be strong support for the concept among Democrats. But because the House and Senate have approved different proposals, lawmakers will have to decide how far they want to go within a matter of weeks.
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A resolution introduced by Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, would automatically restore voting rights for people who had been convicted of a felony, upon their release from prison. A resolution proposed by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, aims to go further by eliminating any language that removes a person’s right to vote due to a felony conviction or because they’ve been deemed mentally incompetent.
More than half a million people previously convicted of a felony live in Virginia, and the state estimates that about 1 in 7 are ineligible to vote. An additional 33,000 people who are incarcerated in Virginia due to a felony conviction would regain their right to vote from prison under Locke’s resolution.
In recent years, the state’s governors have used their powers to grant people their voting rights back, but the process is a messy one that is not applied equally across the state. Gov. Ralph Northam, who has restored voting rights to 40,000 people, is championing Herring’s measure.
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Republicans have proposed resolutions to restore voting rights for felons only after they’ve completed their sentences and paid any fees or debts owed related to their crimes.
In order to take effect, a proposed state constitutional amendment would have to clear the House and the Senate this year and next year. It would then have to gain the support of a majority of voters in a statewide referendum.