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Could 2017 Be the Year Former Felons Get Their Voting Rights Back?

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This just might be the year that Virginia’s constitution starts to change: to allow people convicted of a felony to more easily get their voting rights back. But there are multiple proposals on the table, and advocates for former felons are pushing hard.

This week more than 200 Virginians, mostly black and Latino, sat in a hotel conference room in Richmond, preparing to walk to the capital and talk to lawmakers. Many were there to push Democratic Delegate Marcus Simon’s bill -- which would strike language in the state constitution prohibits ex-offenders from voting.

Josie Mace is with New Virginia Majority, the group that organized everyone here today.

“So pretty much the second you’re released from prison and you’re completed with your sentence, you’re able to vote again. And you wouldn’t have to petition to the governor or petition to anyone, it would just be done.”

A competing proposal, backed by Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb, allows automatic restoration -- but only for nonviolent felons who have paid all their fines. Mace says that’s a double-edged sword. Many ex-offenders have trouble getting back to work, and hence paying, because they have to identify as a felon on job applications.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief.
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