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Posted at 3:41 PM ET, 12/22/2009

Former convicts need an easier path to the ballot box

By editors

By Lavern J. Chatman

Last Nov. 4, the United States elected its first African American president. At the time, I could not help but think of the Virginians who could not participate in the election. Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states that do not restore voting rights to formerly convicted felons after they have completed their sentence, unless they go through a lengthy application process through the governor.

Today, approximately 300,000 formerly convicted persons can’t vote in Virginia, and they are disproportionately African American. In August 2008, even as the Northern Virginia Urban League registered more than 750 voters, we consistently met Virginians who could not vote, even though they had paid their debt to society.

The Urban League is committed to helping empower African Americans and other disadvantaged people to enter the economic and social mainstream. I urge Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to exercise his right to restore the voting rights for all formerly convicted persons before he leaves office on Jan. 16. He can change history right here in Virginia, destroying the last vestige of the Jim Crow era and putting the state in line with the rest of the nation.

The writer is president and chief executive of the Northern Virginia Urban League.

By editors  | December 22, 2009; 3:41 PM ET
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