Richmond Mayor hosts roundtable after Youngkin ends automatic voting rights for ex-felons

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and several others criticized the actions of the Youngkin Administration during a roundtable discussion Tuesday about the restoratio
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 5:13 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and several others criticized the Youngkin administration’s actions during a Tuesday roundtable discussion about restoring rights for former felons in Virginia.

The discussion focused on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s move to prevent ex-felons from automatically getting voting rights back. Instead, people will need to apply, and Youngkin will review applications case-by-case.

Mayor Stoney had a message for the governor, denouncing his policy change.

“My main message to the governor is that if you’re a believer in mercy, if you’re a believer in redemption, if you’re a believer in empathy, then you should believe in automatic restoration and not case-by-case, individual-by-individual,” Stoney said.

Stoney and several others brought emotions and concerns to the table at New Life Deliverance Tabernacle church, saying the governor is adding barriers to punish those who have already done their time and paid their dues.

“You’re using the bureaucracy of the state government to slow down a process that restores individuals to full citizenship. Now, is that the sort of values you want to express across the entire Commonwealth of Virginia? I think not,” Stoney said.

Many voiced that they feel the progress in recent years is being erased.

It all began under Governor McDonnell, resulting in thousands of formerly incarcerated people winning their rights. Then in 2014, Governor McAuliffe and then Secretary Levar Stoney worked to improve processes, streamlining the application process, which was then continued by Governor Northam, who restored rights for over 126,000 people before he left office.

“We are here today because we are saying that it is wrong,” one speaker said. “There are a lot of folks in the community right now that are afraid,” another chimed in.

“It is a racist act. We are under attack,” another speaker added.

Governor Youngkin’s spokeswoman Macaulay Porter responded with the following statement:

“The Governor firmly believes in the importance of second chances for Virginians who have made mistakes but are working to move forward as active members of our citizenry. The Constitution places the responsibility to consider Virginians for restoration in the hands of the Governor alone, and he does not take this lightly. Restoration of rights are assessed on an individual basis according to the law and take into consideration the unique elements of each situation, practicing grace for those who need it and ensuring public safety for our community and families. The Department of Corrections and the Secretary of the Commonwealth work with the appropriate agencies to restore an individual’s rights.”

“It is not necessarily about this administration, but we do need a process that’s transparent,” Sheba Williams, founder of Nolef Turns, said.

Williams leads Nolef Turns, a Richmond-based nonprofit that advocates for people with felony convictions. This organization filed a lawsuit claiming that the policy change from the Youngkin administration is unconstitutional.

“The process has been changed. The process has been put before us where no one knows what the criteria is, why people will be left in pending status, why people will be approved,” Williams said.

In response, Youngkin’s spokesperson says, “The process is constitutional and will be defended vigorously in court.”