Supposedly "moderate" Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin has just eliminated the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of Virginians, announcing that his office will no longer automatically restore the right to vote for felons who serve out their sentences.
Governor Glenn Youngkin just gave himself a lot more power to pick and choose Virginia voters. The Republican governor’s administration told state lawmakers in a letter last week that he was rescinding his predecessors’ policy of automatically restoring the voting rights of people with felony convictions.
Going forward, Virginians will no longer regain their rights when released from prison—the most recent policy announced by Virginia officials in 2021—nor at any later point, unless Youngkin deems them to be worthy on an individual basis.
His decision, which a future governor could alter, sidelines many residents who expected they would get to vote in Virginia elections.
“I’ve never voted in my life. I was looking forward to voting this year,” Sincere Allah, who was released from prison the week Youngkin was inaugurated in 2022 and who has since waited to learn if his rights will be restored, told Bolts, in reference to the state’s upcoming legislative and prosecutorial elections. “I can pay taxes, I can be held to the same standard as everyone else when it comes to laws and rules and regulations, but I have no say-so or representation.”
Youngkin’s announcement also puts Virginia in a category all its own: It is the only state where someone who is convicted today over any felony is presumed to be barred from voting for life, with no remedy other than receiving a discretionary act of clemency from the governor.
Virginia’s constitution permanently disenfranchises people with a felony conviction. Only Iowa and Kentucky have such a harsh rule on the books—other states with a lifetime ban, like Mississippi, do not apply it to all felonies—but their sitting governors have each issued executive orders that automatically restore at least some people’s voting rights upon completion of their sentences.
For much of the last decade, Virginia governors adopted a similar approach, enabling hundreds of thousands of people to regain the franchise. Anyone whose rights have already been restored will retain the ability to vote. But for others, Youngkin has now rolled back those reforms.
“We are back to 1902-era policy,” Democratic state Senator Scott Surovell tweeted last week after Youngkin’s administration notified him of the change, in reference to the 1902 convention that designed Virginia’s disenfranchisement system with the explicit goal of disenfranchising Black residents: “discrimination within the letter of the law,” as one delegate termed it. That legacy lived on; as recently as 2016, 22 percent of Black Virginians were barred from voting.
“This language in our constitution is from extraordinarily dark origins,” Surovell told Bolts in a follow-up. “I thought we’d settled this debate over the past twelve years of reform, but apparently… anything’s on the table.”
When I say the chief goal of the Republican Party is the eliminate the entire Civil Rights Era and take us back to a Jim Crow time where the citizenship rights of anyone who isn't a white, straight Christian male are completely optional, this is precisely what I mean. It's not a dramatic construct, it's the actual truth.
If you can't win in the marketplace of ideas, reduce the number of people allowed in the marketplace.
It's the Republican way!