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Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney speaks out on Governor's voting changes: 'It’s intentional'

Mayor Levar Stoney on felons voting rights
Posted at 3:19 PM, Apr 11, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney sat down with activists and Virginians who have had their rights restored for a roundtable discussion Tuesday morning.

The discussion at New Life Deliverance Tabernacle Church came after Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) announced that the restoration of voting rights wasno longer automatic for felons who completed their sentences in Virginia.

Virginia governors over the past two decades, both Democrat and Republican, have taken steps to streamline the process of applying for restoration of rights or to work through applications more quickly, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

“I believe what the Governor is doing in slowing down the process is intentional. It’s intentional,” Stoney said. “To be more simple, they want to make it harder for people to have access to the ballot. They want to make it harder for people to vote.”

Gov. Youngkin spoke to reporters in Petersburg on Tuesday following a ribbon cutting of a new maternal health hub.

"The restoration of rights situation is one where our Constitution and a Supreme Court ruling in 2016 made it very clear that what I have to do is give every formerly incarcerated Virginian an individual review," he said. "And that's what we're committed to do. And it just hasn't been happening. And so I wanted to come in and make sure we did this by the book.”

Mayor Levar Stoney on felons voting rights
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney spoke at the discussion on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.

A spokesperson for Gov. Youngkin said each application is considered on an individual basis and according to the law.

"Restoration of rights are assessed on an individual basis according to the law and take into consideration the unique elements of each situation, practicing grace for those who need it and ensuring public safety for our community and families," the statement said.

They added that the Governor firmly believes in the importance of second chances for Virginians who have made mistakes but are working to move forward as active members of society.

Nolef Turns, a Richmond-based nonprofit that advocates for people with felony convictions, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming Youngkin’s changes to the process are unconstitutional.

At the roundtable, a representative for the nonprofit said applications that once took just several months to process now take up to a year.

Virginia’s governor has the sole discretion to restore civil rights such as the right to vote, serve on a jury or run for office.

However, the Commonwealth is an outlier across the country.

In most states, rights are automatically restored either after the completion of a prison sentence or after the completion of parole or probation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Eric Branch had his rights restored by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D - Virginia) in 2015.

Branch served over four years for breaking and entering, and was released in April 1992.

“As a result, I was able to accomplish something. As I travel the Commonwealth, I tell people all the time that this process works if you give people an opportunity,” he explained. “For me to get my right to vote, I haven’t missed one election since being reestablished and my right to vote again.”

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