Monday, September 14, 2009

Rally Held In Roanoke On Restoration of Voting Rights

During the Democratic primaries earlier this year we heard a fair amount of discussion about restoring the voting rights of convicted felons once they've completed their sentences. Even though this is something that so many people believe is something that must be addressed, there are many politicians who are afraid to take it up as part of their platform because they don't want to be accused of being soft on crime. Perhaps that's one of the main reasons that there hasn't been much discussion on the topic since the primaries ended.

Fortunately, there are are still some folks interested in rolling back the extremely restrictive policies that were originally adopted in Virginia in order to disenfranchise black voters. According to the Roanoke Times, there was a rally held that was designed to draw attention to this very issue.
Total Action Against Poverty of Roanoke, acting with several human rights and welfare organizations as co-sponsors, organized Sunday's rally -- called Voices for the Vote -- to change, relax or eliminate the restrictions that face felons exiting prison. Many states restore lost rights automatically once a felon completes his or her sentence and related requirements such as restitution and probation. In Virginia, one of few with significant restrictions, it takes approval of a written application sent to the governor.

Before applying, there is a waiting period of five years for a violent felony or drug crime and three years for a nonviolent offense, as well as a background check and other requirements. At least 300,000 felons are disenfranchised in Virginia, even though many have completed their sentences.
Restoration of rights for felons might not be the most popular political stance, but it's something that should be addressed. One of the best ways to cut down on crime is to address some of the issues that might lead to people breaking the law in the first place. Promoting a policy that doesn't keep felons as second class citizens even after they've completed their sentence would be one way to begin addressing those issues.

I know Del. Onzlee Ware has been doing some work on this issue as he actually addressed the rally and pushed for legislation last year that would have automatically restored the rights of nonviolent felons once their sentence was complete. Unfortunately that didn't pass in the Republican controlled House, but he has stated that he'll try again during the next session. In my opinion this shouldn't be viewed as a simple political issue. It's one of common decency and civil rights and I'm pleased to see that Del. Ware will be continuing his push to improve the lives of over 300,000 Virginia who currently don't have their full rights.

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