Virginia removes poll tax on ex-felon voting rights

On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the state will no longer require felons to pay outstanding court fees before having their voting rights restored. The change amounts to a small, yet significant, step in clearing the way for more of Virginia’s estimated 450,000 ex-felons to have their voting rights restored.

From the Huffington Post:

McAuliffe also announced Tuesday that individuals who have their voting rights restored will now be able to add a note to their criminal record indicating that fact.

This is the second time the governor has modified the restoration process. In April of last year, McAuliffe reduced the number of years that Virginians convicted of violent felonies had to wait before they could apply to vote again.

To be clear, Virginia remains one of the most restrictive states in the country with respect to restoration of voting rights for felons. Its lack of automatic restoration for all felons, coupled with waiting periods even after completion of parole, make it far more difficult to get your rights restored in Virginia than it is in other states.

Terry McAuliffe, via Wikimedia Commons

Terry McAuliffe, via Wikimedia Commons

However, removing the requirement that court fees be paid before rights can be restored is but the latest in a series of incremental changes that have made it easier for felons to regain their voting rights. Virginia’s previous governor, Bob McDonnell, who has since been convicted of a non-violent felony himself, reformed the system such that non-violent offenders who are incarcerated or on parole have their rights automatically restored when they become eligible. Non-violent offenders who completed their sentences before April 2014, along with violent offenders, still need to apply on an individual basis. The changes also declassified certain types of drug possession as “violent” offenses.

In announcing his changes, Governor McAuliffe correctly pointed out that making voting rights conditional on the payment of court fees amounts to a poll tax. The state will still require that outstanding fees be paid eventually, but will not consider them as a part of the electoral process.

It isn’t full rights restoration, which would require action from the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, but it’s something.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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