On June 23, 2015, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced changes to the restoration of voting rights process for Virginians with prior felony convictions. The Governor announced that Virginians with prior felony convictions will no longer have to pay their court fees, fines, and restitution as a condition of voting rights restoration eligibility.
Prior to this announcement, applicants had to complete their sentence and pay all court fees, fines, and restitution before being considered for voting rights restoration. Now, the only requirement for individuals to apply to regain their right to vote is completion of sentence (including probation/parole). Importantly, the Governor’s announcement does not absolve individuals of the requirement that they pay outstanding fines and fees. It simply removes payment of such fees as a barrier to eligibility to vote. In announcing the new policy, the Governor likened conditioning voting on payment of a fee to payment of a poll tax. Explained the Governor, “These men and women will still be required to pay their costs and fees, but their court debts will no longer serve as a financial barrier to voting, just as poll taxes did for so many years in Virginia.”
The Governor also announced a second reform. Going forward Virginians with prior felony convictions who have had their rights restored will now have the option to include a notation in their criminal record designating that their political rights have been restored.
Mark Listes, Director of Revive My Vote and a rising 3L at William & Mary Law School, commented on the announcement. Listes noted, “The Governor has removed a significant impediment for many Virginians who would otherwise be eligible to restore their voting rights. Furthermore, the Governor has removed a lot of red tape for those who have paid their fees but may not have saved receipts proving they have done so.” Listes continued, “Revive My Vote stands ready to help Virginians navigate the application process under this new policy. I encourage anyone who has questions or would like to start their application to call our toll-free hotline at 844-WE2-VOTE (932-8683). We stand ready to help.” Revive My Vote is a civil rights organization that works primarily in Virginia and helps people with prior felony convictions restore their right to vote.