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Video: VA NAACP Rips Youngkin’s “arbitrary and secretive rights restoration process that threatens to disenfranchise thousands of returning Virginia citizens, in particular Black Virginians and other Virginians of color”

"[W]e have sent to the Governor today our list of policy proposals based on principles of transparency and fundamental fairness."

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See below for video of the Virginia NAACP’s press conference this morning, as well as information/background “regarding Governor Glenn Youngkin’s new, arbitrary process for restoring voting rights to Virginia citizens with past felony convictions.”  As the Virginia NAACP explains, it is “call[ing] upon the Governor to establish clear and publicly available criteria for his rights restoration decisions, communicate effectively with applicants about the process, and ensure that all applications are processed fairly and promptly.”

The Virginia NAACP bases these concrete policy demands on what it has learned from documents produced in response to public records requests it submitted on May 9, 2023, represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Office of the General Counsel of the NAACP, and the law firm Hogan Lovells US LLP.

These documents reveal a lack of clear standards and timelines for the current rights restoration process, which creates an opaque and confusing system rife with opportunity for discriminatory impact on Black Virginians and other Virginians of color. Additionally, the process is operating at an increasingly slow pace which threatens to block thousands of applicants from participating in upcoming elections.

“Against the backdrop of the Commonwealth’s deplorable history of state officials using the power of their offices to prevent Black Virginians from voting, the Virginia NAACP is concerned that the Governor’s new process restores voting rights to some and not others without justification or explanation,” said Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette, Jr. “And there is certainly no justification for such a dramatic slowdown in voting rights restoration as we have seen this year from the Youngkin administration.”

“The Governor has chosen to implement an arbitrary and secretive rights restoration process that threatens to disenfranchise thousands of returning Virginia citizens, in particular Black Virginians and other Virginians of color,” saidRyan Snow, Counsel with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “This regressive approach undermines our democracy and is a stain on the Commonwealth.”

Talking Points for Restoration of Rights Press Conference

  • The State Conference has become increasingly concerned about Governor Youngkin’s changes in the policy and approach to restoring voting rights to Virginia citizens with past felony convictions.
  • This new policy has negatively impacted those who have done what the justice system has asked them to do and have reentered society working for a second chance, something the Governor has paid lip service to over the course of his term.
  • In prior administrations, the policy has been to restore the voting rights of returning citizens as a matter of course and under clear standards made available to the public. This has been true of both Democratic and Republican administrations and should not been politicized—it is a matter of doing what is right and ensuring that all Virginia citizens can participate equally in our democracy.
  • Now, however, we are seeing a dramatic slowdown in the restoration of voting rights—from tens of thousands each year to just four thousand in 2022, and even fewer this year. This is because Governor Youngkin has chosen to implement a new process—a process that was created in secret and operates entirely behind closed doors—to arbitrarily pick and choose who will have their voting rights restored.
  • So, with the help of our attorneys, we submitted public records requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to the Governor’s office. And we received several hundred documents in response, documents regarding a process that directly affects many tens of thousands of Virginians and about which all Virginians have a right to know the truth.
  • These documents reveal a process requiring citizens to apply to have their rights restored, but without any clear criteria for determining whose applications will be successful and whose will not—an arbitrary process without any stated standards for who will have their voting rights restored and who will not.
  • These documents also underscore the dramatic slowdown in the increasingly small number of individuals whose rights are being restored by Governor Youngkin versus the far greater numbers whose rights were restored by previous Governors in recent years.
  • Governor Youngkin’s painfully slow and opaque process is sure to have a discriminatory impact on Black Virginians and other Virginians of color, as well as those communities where they live and work. These citizens and communities are already disproportionately impacted by Virginia’s criminal legal system, and now face disenfranchisement because of Governor Youngkin’s decision to implement a rights restoration process without clear standards or timelines.
  • Against the backdrop of the Commonwealth’s deplorable history of state officials using the power of their offices to keep Black Virginians from voting, the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP simply will not accept a process that restores voting rights to some and not others without justification or explanation.
  • Based on what we have learned from the records produced by the Governor, we demand that the Governor:
  • Adopt clear and publicly stated criteria for restoring voting rights, and, critically, state clearly and publicly the reasons why an application for the restoration of voting rights may be denied;
  • Make clear that the Governor is NOT considering race, geography, or voting history in making restoration decisions, and detail the steps the Governor is taking to ENSURE that his process for the restoration of voting rights does not have a discriminatory impact on Black Virginians and other Virginians of color;
  • Clearly communicate all aspects of the process to applicants seeking to have their voting rights restored, including the criteria used in determining whether their rights will be restored, the timeline on which their applications will be considered and when a decision will be made, any and all steps the applicant must take to ensure their application is complete, and any steps the applicant may take to further aid in consideration of their application and receive a favorable decision;
  • Commit to fair and prompt review of all applications for the restoration of voting rights; and
  • Commit to regular public disclosures regarding the number of applications received, rejected for lack of information, granted, and denied.
  • To that end, we have sent to the Governor today our list of policy proposals based on principles of transparency and fundamental fairness. As we await the Governor’s response to these proposals, we emphasize that there is no justification for a policy with no standards and no timeline—whether a Virginia citizen has their voting rights restored cannot depend on the Governor’s whim.
  • As the Governor himself has said, for felons who have served their time, restoration of voting rights is a “critical first step towards vibrant futures as citizens with full civil rights,” and “[i]ndividuals with their rights restored come from every walk of life and are eager to provide for themselves, their families and put the past behind them for a better tomorrow.”[1] His process for restoring voting rights utterly fails to live up to these lofty ideals.
  • The Virginia NAACP stands with Virginia’s returning citizens. We firmly believe that all our citizens should have a say in what happens in their community and a voice in our government, and we believe the vast majority of Virginians agree with us.  If this is to be true—if Virginia’s democracy is to live up to its promises and leave its racist history behind—the process for the restoration of voting rights must have clear standards, those standards must be clearly communicated to the public and to rights restoration applicants themselves, and all applications must be considered fairly and promptly.
  • Accordingly, we demand that Governor Youngkin make these basic and necessary changes in his policy for the restoration of voting rights. Thank you.

[1] https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/news-releases/2022/may/name-933455-en.html

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