Recent Virginia governors have made strong progress in reforming laws regarding the restitution of voting rights for felons and ex-felons. But the denial of voting rights for people with felony convictions in Virginia and other states still disproportionately affects black citizens.
Felon disenfranchisement’s long history can be traced to 19th century attempts to undercut the voting strength of African Americans, according to the article by civil rights history scholar Helen A. Gibson. She received her M.A. in American history, culture and society at the University of Munich with her recent thesis on “The Role of Race in the History of Felon Disenfranchisement in Virginia.”  She received her B.A. in American studies at the University of Virginia.
Gibson writes that Virginia has had one of the most discriminatory records for denying voting rights to felons and ex-felons until recently.  But key steps by recent governors have made the path to restoration of rights smoother, she adds. The state’s current disenfranchised population numbers approximately 450,000 of its 6.4 million voting-age residents, and its felon disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect black citizens, the article shows. As of 2010, over 20 percent of the state’s voting-age African American population could not vote as a result of a felony conviction, and nearly 7 percent of the state’s total population 18 and older was disenfranchised.

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Helen A. Gibson