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Youngkin restores voting rights to about 3,500 people

Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the press.
The administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (shown here) will largely stick with a less restrictive process of rights restoration, initiated in 2012 under former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and expedited under Democrat Govs. Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, according to Kay Cole James, who currently serves as secretary of the commonwealth. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin restored civil rights to nearly 3,500 people since he took office in January, his office announced on Friday. The move will allow the people to vote, serve on a jury or run for public office. 

His administration said it will largely stick with a less restrictive process initiated in 2012 under former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and expedited under Democrat Govs. Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, according to Kay Cole James, who currently serves as secretary of the commonwealth.

“The only thing we're looking for are efficiencies — ways to do it faster, quicker,” James said in an interview with VPM News on Friday.

Each state handles rights restoration in different ways. In a few cases, including in Washington, D.C., people convicted of felonies never lose their right to vote. In Virginia, individuals convicted of felonies must petition the governor to regain their civil rights after they’re released from prison.

In a statement, Youngkin said the 3,496 Virginians — who each applied to have their rights restored — were taking “a critical first step towards vibrant futures as citizens.”

“Individuals with their rights restored come from every walk of life and are eager to provide for themselves, their families and put the past behind them for a better tomorrow,” Youngkin said. 

Last year, Virginia’s legislature passed an amendment to the Virginia Constitution to make rights restoration automatic, as it is in many other states. But the proposal required a second vote this year and failed to make it out of committee in the House of Delegates, now controlled by Republicans, despite support for the proposal from at least two GOP lawmakers: Del. Mike Cherry (R-Colonial Heights) and Del. Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield).

Youngkin stayed out of that debate, despite pressure from advocates.

Asked if she supported automatic rights restoration, James, who previously served as president of the Heritage Foundation, said she didn’t have an answer yet.

“I'm happy to take a look at that and see what best practices are around the country,” she said. “And if Virginia can do it better, faster, more efficiently, I'm certainly open to that.”

Cherry plans on introducing legislation on the topic next year, but is still exploring what form it might take, according to his chief of staff, Zachary Wood. Cherry was a cosponsor of the constitutional amendment this year.

It was Virginia’s last Republican governor — Bob McDonnell — who first loosened restrictions for rights restoration for certain nonviolent offenders about a decade ago. In 2016, McAuliffe attempted to use executive action to restore rights to 206,000 Virginians. Republicans said the move was a thinly disguised way to boost Democratic support and challenged the constitutionality of the move. The Virginia Supreme Court ultimately ruled 4-3 against McAuliffe. The Democrat set up an expedited process instead, ultimately restoring voting rights for 173,166 people.

Last year, Northam further expanded the process by removing a requirement that people complete probation before having their rights restored.