Senate and House Democrats are calling for a constitutional amendment to protect voter restoration rights as Gov. Glenn Youngkin faces backlash over a new policy that some say takes the state backward.
Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, previously introduced an amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to residents who’ve served their time for a felony conviction. Constitutional amendments must pass the General Assembly for two years in a row, and then be put to a public vote, before taking effect.
“Let it go to the voters and let the voters decide,” said Locke, speaking from a news conference Tuesday in Richmond. “Why are we afraid of our voters?”
Sen. Lionell Spruill said Tuesday that Youngkin had agreed to his recent request for a meeting to discuss the change in policy. Spruill, a Chesapeake Democrat and chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, said he is slated to meet with the governor on Wednesday.
Those with a felony conviction automatically lose the right to vote in Virginia. The only way to get it back is to receive approval from the governor.
The three previous administrations each pushed to streamline the restoration process. But Youngkin has come under fire for quietly implementing a new policy that considers each application individually on unspecified criteria.
Spruill, who previously said the issue came to his attention after a concerned constituent reached out, has pushed for more information in recent weeks about how applicants are being evaluated and what efforts were made to inform the public of the change.
Senate and House Democrats argued Tuesday that Youngkin’s new policy is taking Virginia backward.
“Voting is a sacred right, not a privilege as the governor’s office would like you to believe,” said Locke.
House Minority Leader Don Scott said the new policy showed that “MAGA extremists” have taken over. He called on concerned constituents to reach out to the governor.
“This is an overreach,” said Scott, D-Portsmouth.
The Democrats were joined by several organizations, including New Virginia Majority, Virginia NAACP, League of Women Voters of Virginia, Virginia Organizing, ACLU of Virginia and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
Meanwhile, Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said the governor told a gaggle of reporters in Petersburg that he was looking forward to meeting with Spruill.
“Tomorrow morning, we get a chance to listen to one another and exchange views,” the governor said, according to Porter. “The restoration of rights situation is one where our Constitution and a Supreme Court ruling in 2016 made it very clear that what I have to do is give every formerly incarnated Virginian an individual review. And that’s what we are committed to do.”
Porter previously told The Virginian-Pilot that the governor believes in second chances.
“The Constitution places the responsibility to consider Virginians for restoration in the hands of the Governor alone, and he does not take this lightly,” she wrote in an email. “Restoration of rights are assessed on an individual basis according to the law and take into consideration the unique elements of each situation.”