Governor Youngkin weighs the circumstances of the crime in deciding the voting rights of the felons

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin contemplates whether to restore civil rights to convicted felons who have served their time, he is considering at least some of the circumstances of their crimes, his administration said Monday in a letter to the state NAACP.

Read the message here:

Commonwealth Secretary Kay Coles James wrote to Robert Barnett Jr., president of the NAACP Virginia State Conference.

James said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press that Youngkin would also “generally, but not always” work to restore voting rights to those who committed nonviolent crimes.

In Virginia, a felony conviction automatically results in the loss of certain rights such as voting, serving on a jury, running for office, or carrying a firearm. The governor has sole discretion to restore them—except for firearms rights, which only a court can do.

Youngkin’s handling of the operation has come under scrutiny for several months after his management asserted that it had moved away from the at least partially automatic recovery system used by his predecessors. At least two court cases have been filed challenging what critics call an opaque process that can lead to discrimination.

Last week, the NAACP said documents it obtained through public records requests “reveal a lack of clear standards and timelines” that creates a confusing system “full of opportunity for discriminatory impact on black Virginians and other Virginians of color.”

In a statement, the group also said the restoration process is working at an “increasingly slow pace,” which could prevent thousands of people from participating in the upcoming election.

Monday’s letter from James, whose office is overseeing the restorations, vigorously denied both claims. She accused the NAACP of implying that selections are made on the basis of race and said that nowhere in the application process is there a reference to “race, religion or ethnicity”.

“Governor Yongkin and I ensure that these factors play absolutely no role in the process or serious decisions we make on behalf of returning citizens,” James said.

In the meantime, she added, the administration has “made serious progress to reduce wait times” and is working to increase transparency.

Representatives for the NAACP could not immediately be reached for comment on the letter. The organization plans to hold a press conference on Tuesday.

According to a lawsuit filed last month, Virginia is the state with the fifth-highest number of citizens disenfranchised because of criminal convictions — more than 312,000.

Black Virginians make up less than 20% of the voting-age population in the state, but account for nearly half of all disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, according to the lawsuit.

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