Virginians with drug convictions regain voting rights

Part 7 of 7 in the series Free to Vote in Virginia

By Bre Payton | Virginia Bureau

DRUG VOTE?: Gov. McAuliffe’s answer to the question whether or not those with drug convictions should vote adds transparency to the process. But leaves many off the rolls for now.

PURCELLVILLE, Va. — People with prior drug convictions will regain the right to vote after Gov. Terry McAuliffe changed the rules on who is eligible to automatically get their voting rights back.

Most drug-related offenses were scrubbed from the violent category, making offenders eligible for automatic restoration. In addition, those with violent felony convictions will now only have to wait three years instead of five.

This answer has simplified the process for those working to help ex-felons get their voting rights back, and has added a bit of transparency to the discretionary policy.

“A lot of people we had been talking to had drug convictions, so were able to call them back and tell them the process was much simpler for them ,” said Rebecca Green, co-director of the election law program at William & Mary.

“I think that prior categorization with drug offenses was very odd,” Green said. “This clarifies situations in terms of ‘should people with drug offenses be voting?’”

Green is also a member of Revive My Vote, a project law students at William & Mary launched to walk ex-felons through the restoration process and help them get their rights back.

Before the governor’s office released the list of the crimes that required a waiting period last week, it wasn’t clear which crimes required felons to wait before moving forward with the restoration process.

“People were calling with crimes that we weren’t sure about how the process would work,” Green said. “We’re very pleased the governor has made the process a lot more straightforward.”

While automatic in name, the process still requires ex-felons to fill out an application to have their rights restored.

This is due to the fact there is no comprehensive database of felons who have completed their sentences and paid all fines in Virignia.

An eligible ex-felon must fill out an application and wait till staffers in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office can verify an individual is indeed eligible to have his or her rights restored.

There are roughly 97,200 eligible ex-felons who are left waiting.

Contact Bre Payton at or follow her on Twitter @Bre_payton.