APRIL 22, 2016 … Today, by Executive Order of the Governor, more than 200,000 Virginians who were convicted of felonies regained their voting and civil rights: to register to vote, to hold public office, to serve on a jury and to act as a notary public.
“Throughout my administration my team and I have operated on a simple principle: Virginians who have served their time and reentered society should do so as full citizens of our Commonwealth and country,” said Governor McAuliffe. “Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy. Today we are reversing that disturbing trend.”
For years, Guest House alumna Terry Garrett (who had felony convictions) has advocated for voting rights restoration. She has met with lawmakers, served on panels and talked to the media on the subject. And she has tried to have her own rights restored: applying and reapplying to the Commonwealth, rejected each time. “I am a citizen of the United States,” she has said, “and I'd like to vote.”
Reacting to today's Order, Terry speaks for herself and others: “We're very, very grateful. They're starting to recognize our potential and what it means to us to have our rights back. We acknowledge what we've done, and now we're trying to move forward, and somebody believes in us enough to do that.”
Says Faith Ruderfer, also a Guest House alumna (with felony convictions) as well as our Speakers Bureau Coordinator and manager of advocacy efforts, “These days, we call people who are getting out of jail ‘returning citizens’—but that's been an optimistic view, it has not been a reality. However, this Order is a full embrace of an individual's right to participate in society.”
And that recognition, Faith says, also has symbolic importance: “It welcomes people back into the community.”
Read the full text of today's Order for the Restoration of Rights here.