RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced that during his term rights have been restored to more than 10,000 Virginians who were previously convicted of a felony.
Those people will again have rights including the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for public office. Virginia’s rights restoration process does not restore someone’s right to possess a firearm, according to the Office of the Governor.
“I believe in second chances and making our Commonwealth more open and accessible to all,” Northam said in a statement Tuesday. “Virginians who have repaid their debts should be able to return to society, get a good job, and participate in our democracy.”
Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said, “I am proud to have worked with two governors to improve the rights restoration process—making it easier for individuals to have a second chance and move forward with their lives.”
Three governors have worked to restore civil rights over the last six years, beginning with Governor Bob McDonnell. Northam’s predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, signed restoration orders on more than 173,000 individuals before he left office in 2018. McAuliffe touted the restoration of civil rights to felons as his “proudest moment.”
Paul Woodell of Portsmouth is one of them. “I’m just glad we’re finally doing it,” he told WAVY.com.
Woodell said he made a mistake when he was 18 years old. He did drugs, fell asleep inside a business and was convicted of breaking and entering.
He did 90 days in jail, but was denied the right to vote for decades. That is something that really bothered him. “I think I’ve already served my time, you know, it’s something that’s held against me.”
Woodell says he’s voted twice now, but has friends who still can’t.
Many states now automatically reinstate rights after time served.
Virginia is one of three states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony conviction, and only allows restoration of voting rights by the governor.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia says African Americans are disproportionately impacted by the law.
Senators Mamie Locke and Louise Lucas from Hampton Roads introduced resloutions this year to allow felons to vote again without the governor having to restore the right.
The measure failed in committee.
Tuesday’s announcement comes as he and two other top elected officials in Virginia — Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring — have faced widespread calls of resignation over the past couple of weeks.
The Associated Press reports the clamor for the resignation of Northam and Justin Fairfax seemed to die down on Monday. Some black community leaders have forgiven Northam over the blackface furor and called for a fair hearing for Fairfax on the sexual assault allegations against him.
Several black clergy and civic leaders made clear they are willing to give both Northam and Herring a second chance, while urging due process for Fairfax. Herring, like Northam, has admitted putting on blackface in the 1980s.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.