In the United States of America, generally, voting rights have experienced a commendable evolution over the years. The issue of enfranchisement has been a topic of debate throughout history. At some point in the history of the United States, some classes of people had their voting rights abridged on account of race, previous conditions of servitude, and gender.
However, these barriers are no longer in existence in contemporary America. Citizens above the age of 18, who meet up certain conditions stipulated by law can now enjoy the right to vote.
The main discussion of this article, however, is not voting rights in America in general, but voting rights in Virginia, particularly the rights of Felons to vote. It hopes to answer the question, can felons vote in Virginia?
The Right To Vote As Provided For In The Constitution Of The State Of Virginia
Virginia is a south-eastern state in the U.S., stretches from the Chesapeake Bay to the Appalachian Mountains. It is also one of the 13 original colonies. The state of Virginia is governed by its constitution, effective from the 1st of July, 1971, with amendments on the 1st of January, 2013.
This constitution provides for voting rights as well as the qualifications to vote. We shall examine the provisions of this constitution.
Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides for the qualification of voters. This section will be reproduced in this article. The section reads thus; In elections by the people, the qualifications of voters shall be as follows:
“Each voter shall be a citizen of the United States, shall be eighteen years of age, shall fulfill the residence requirements set forth in this section, and shall be registered to vote pursuant to this article. No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority. As prescribed by law, no person adjudicated to be mentally incompetent shall be qualified to vote until his competency has been reestablished.
The residence requirements shall be that each voter shall be a resident of the Commonwealth and of the precinct where he votes. Residence, for all purposes of qualification to vote, requires both domicile and a place of abode. The General Assembly may provide for persons who are employed overseas, and their spouses and dependents residing with them, and who are qualified to vote except for relinquishing their place of abode in the Commonwealth while overseas, to vote in the Commonwealth subject to conditions and time limits defined by law.
The General Assembly may provide for persons who are qualified to vote except for having moved their residence from one precinct to another within the Commonwealth to continue to vote in a former precinct subject to conditions and time limits defined by law. The General Assembly may also provide, in elections for President and Vice-President of the United States, alternatives to registration for new residents of the Commonwealth. Any person who will be qualified with respect to the age to vote at the next general election shall be permitted to register in advance and also to vote in any intervening primary or special election.”
The position of the law as regards voting rights has been clearly stated above. Minor ratification has been made to the provisions by the various amendments. However, these are inconsequential to our discourse.
We shall now examine the voting rights of Felons in the state of Virginia.
Are Felons Allowed To Vote In The State Of Virginia?
The constitution of the state clearly answers this. It removes felons from the class of citizens that get to exercise their franchise. This is similar to what happens in most states of the country.
However, a felon in Virginia could still get to vote. While the law expressly states that a felon cannot vote, it also allows for felons to vote under certain circumstances.
Restoring the right to vote for a felon
The Governor has the power to restore the civil rights of such a felon, and once those civil rights have been restored, the person becomes qualified to vote. This power is not however only restricted to the Governor, the constitution also uses the term; “Other appropriate authority”, the meaning of this term is not defined in the constitution, and as such, is open to flexible interpretations.
The practical workings of this provision can be seen in recent times. Sometime in April 2016. The Governor, McAuliffe issued an order granting voting rights to every convicted felon in the state who had been released from prison, was on parole or probation.
This was a practical application of the powers vested in the Governor by Section 1 of Article II of the constitution. However, the order did not include felons still in jail.
In recent times, clamoring for the inclusion of felons in the electoral process has increased. With time, the voting rights of those convicted of felonies might come to permanently remain with them.
Let us bear in mind the initial crux of this write-up is the answer the piercing question, “Can felons vote in Virginia?”. Flowing from the body of this article, and by virtue of the Constitution of Virginia, we have arrived at an answer.
Persons convicted for a felony lose their civil rights, and as such are unable to vote. However, the Governor of the state has the powers, in Virginia, to restore the civil rights of such persons. When the civil rights of felons are restored, they are once again qualified to vote.
Thus, felons are at first not qualified to vote unless their civil rights have been fully restored by the Governor or any other appropriate authority.