Testimony from:

Sarah Wall, Government Affairs Region Manager, Northeast & Mid-Atlantic Region, R Street Institute
In SUPPORT of House Joint Resolution 9 – Proposing an amendment to Section 1 of Article II of the Constitution of Virginia, relating to qualifications of voters and the right to vote
February 4, 2022
House Committee on Privileges and Elections

Chair Ransone, Vice Chair O’Quinn and Honorable Members of the Committee,

My name is Sarah Wall and I am the government affairs manager for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions at R Street Institute (R Street). R Street is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization focused on advancing limited, effective government in many policy areas, including electoral processes and criminal justice reform. Our Governance team as well as our Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties team research and offer public policy solutions for a variety of state and federal issues in their respective subject areas, including expanding secure and convenient access to voting and reducing the impacts of overcriminalization.

R Street Institute strongly supports House Joint Resolution 9, a resolution that would go before Virginia voters on whether the state Constitution should permanently restore voting rights to formerly convicted felons who have returned to their communities. Passing this resolution would not only bring the Commonwealth one step closer to most other states’ policies of restoring felon voting rights after incarceration, but would also aid in rehabilitation by permanently doing away with the endless sentence of revoked voting rights.

Depending on their state of residence, citizens returning from incarceration face a maze of rules and exceptions concerning their ability to vote, but most states offer restored voting rights, even if after a period of continued suspension. Twenty-three states restore the right to vote immediately after release from prison, as HJ 9 proposes, and every state now offers some path to restoring voting rights. [1]

There are several reasons why this policy continues to be adopted and expanded across the country. First, re-enfranchisement recognizes that the end of punitive incarceration should come with the conclusion of other punishments, including disenfranchisement. Research also shows this has a positive impact on a returning citizen’s rehabilitation; according to one study, former felons who voted were half as likely to commit another crime within three years of reentry as those who did not vote. [2] Another study found that returning citizens whose voting rights have been restored are more trusting of the government and more willing to cooperate with law enforcement and the criminal justice system overall—attitudes that also have the potential to forestall crime. This makes intuitive sense, since continuing to punish the formerly incarcerated with disenfranchisement precludes them from the dignity of full citizenship.

Restoring voting rights is supported by strong majorities at both the state and federal level. A recent poll found that 63 percent of respondents across the political spectrum supported an end to barring the right to vote permanently. [4] A 2018 ballot initiative in Florida that restored voter rights passed with nearly 65 percent support. [5] In Kentucky, 67 percent of respondents favored restoring felon voter rights, a 2-to-1 margin. [6]

HJ 9 would codify into law policies that Virginians have been used to for nearly a decade. Currently, the Virginia Constitution contains provisions that permanently disenfranchise felons returning from incarceration, but it allows the governor to take executive action to restore voting rights to felons. Beginning with former Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2013, Virginia’s governors increasingly have utilized this provision to ensure felons become enfranchised citizens following their time in jail. [7] Every governor since has expanded the restoration of felon voting rights, and since 2017, executive action has fully mirrored the language in HJ 9 to restore voting rights immediately upon release, including for those Virginians on parole or probation. [8]

Still, the Commonwealth should not rely on executive action for this initiative since it is not permanent without amending the Constitution. Changes in power at the executive level can cause fundamental rights to become a political football, something Kentucky experienced only a few years ago. In 2015, the then-governor signed an executive order restoring voting rights for most felons. The policy was revoked by his successor, Gov. Matt Bevin, only to be restored again by Gov. Bevin’s successor, Gov. Andy Beshear, in 2019. [9] To avoid similar instability in the Commonwealth, legislators should finish the process and codify in the Virginia Constitution what effectively has been Virginia policy since 2013.

For these reasons, we strongly urge the House Committee on Privileges and Elections to pass House Joint Resolution 9. Thank you for your consideration.


Sarah Wall
Government Affairs Region Manager
R Street Institute
[email protected]

[1] “State Voting Laws & Policies for People with Felony Convictions,” ProCon.org, Britannica, Aug. 24, 2021. https://felonvoting.procon.org/state-felon-voting-laws.

[2] Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, “Voting and Subsequent Crime and Arrest: Evidence from a Community Sample,” Columbia Human Rights Law Review (2004). https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Voting-and-Subsequent-Crime-and-Arrest%3A-Evidence-a-Uggen-Manza/3887bffdb10e5006e2f902fcf2a46abaa9efdf46?p2df.

[3] Victoria Shineman, “Florida restores voting rights to 1.5 million citizens, which might also decrease crime,” TCPalm (Treasure Coast Newspapers), Nov. 8, 2018. https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/contributors/2018/11/08/restoring-felons-voting-rights-might-also-decrease-crime/1925398002/.

[4] Karina Schroeder, “Majority of Americans Say Voting Rights Should be Restored for People with Felony Convictions,” Think Justice Blog, March 22, 2018. https://www.vera.org/blog/majority-of-americans-say-voting-rights-should-be-restored-for-people-with-felony-convictions.

[5] “Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Florida,” Brennan Center for Justice, Sept. 11, 2020. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-rights-restoration-efforts-florida.

[6] “New polling suggests Kentuckians support amendment to automatically restore voting rights,” Northern Kentucky Tribune, Feb. 20, 2021. https://www.nkytribune.com/2021/02/new-polling-suggests-kentuckians-support-amendment-to-automatically-restore-voting-rights/.

[7] Stuart Baum, “Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Virginia,” Brennan Center for Justice, March 16, 2021. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-rights-restoration-efforts-virginia.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Michael Wines, “Kentucky Gives Voting Rights to Some 140,000 Former Felons,” The New York Times, Dec. 12, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/12/us/kentucky-felons-voting-rights.html.

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