Virginia is taking steps toward reforming the criminal justice system. This week, Governor Ralph Northam has announced that Virginians convicted of felonies will regain the right to vote after completing their sentences.
"Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity," Northam said.
"We are a commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past. If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that."
The right to vote will be restored to all those that complete their sentences, including those on parole. Northam's act will benefit nearly 70,000 people across the state. It will especially impact Black communities across Virginia. Currently, Black Virginians make up approximately 20% of the overall population and 43% of the state's prison population. Roughly estimating, this move will allow 25,000 more Black Virginians to vote in upcoming elections.
"Here in the commonwealth, for more than a century, this racist Jim Crow law that was enacted specifically to disenfranchise Black Virginians has done just that. This is a moral and civil rights issue, and one that speaks to the core of who we are as Democrats and as Virginians," gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said.
This move could have a significant impact on the upcoming gubernatorial election. In November 2021, Democrats will look to maintain control over the state as Northam steps aside. Currently, McAuliffe, Jennifer Denise Carroll Foy, Lee J. Carter, Justin Fairfax and Jennifer McClellan lead the Democratic primaries. As for the Virginia GOP, Amanda Chase, Kirk Cox, Sergio de la Peña, Peter Snyder and Glenn Youngkin stand out as top primary candidates. Election Day is set for November 2.
Photo Credit: Getty Images