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Republicans may roll back automatic restoration of rights later this month

One of the casualties of the Republicans taking control of the House of Delegates may end up being the proposed constitutional amendment automatically restoring the right to vote for former felons.

Virginia has denied former felons the right to vote for a very long time – dating all the way back to 1830. Now, lawmakers are debating a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the right to vote to former felons once they have been released from incarceration.

Senator Mamie Locke is a Democrat from Hampton who introduced the resolution.

"If you have served your time, and you have paid your dues, and you have been released from incarceration, then the moment you walk out of incarceration you too have the right to vote and don't have to jump through any other hoops in order to do so," Locke says.

The proposed constitutional amendment cleared the first hurdle last year, when Democrats were in control of the House. But now Republicans will be in the majority, and Republican Delegate Chris Head of Roanoke says he's concerned the proposal does not require restitution.

"Frequently there is court-ordered restitution, and if you're going to have automatic restoration of rights, you can't say you've paid your debt to society if in fact you have not paid your debt to society," Head says.

House Republicans were opposed to the amendment when they were in the minority. Now that they're about to be the majority, the effort may hit a major hurdle before voters have a chance to weigh in on it.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.