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April 25, 2016

Voting rights restored for felons in Virginia

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 Essential question

Why have certain groups had their voting rights restricted at various points in U.S. history?


More than 200,000 convicted felons in Virginia will now be able to vote once they have served their prison sentences.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order Friday to restore voting rights for felons, reversing what he called 115 years of disenfranchisement and allowing former prisoners to fully rejoin society.

Once you have served your time, once you have paid your debt to society … why should you not be back in?” McAuliffe said.

While felony voting laws vary from state to state, only three states including Florida, Iowa and, until now, Virginia, permanently block felons from voting.

Republicans have accused McAuliffe of trying to make it easier for Hillary Clinton to win Virginia in November’s presidential election, but the governor denies the changes were politically motivated.

Following the Civil War, Southern states like Virginia mandated poll taxes and literacy tests in attempts to make it harder for some citizens to vote. Today, one in thirteen African-Americans has lost their right to vote as a result of felony convictions in the U.S.


Key terms

felon — a criminal who has committed a serious crime

disenfranchisement — to deprive a person of the right to vote

political opportunism — the attempt to maintain political support or increase political influence in a way which disregards relevant ethical or political principles

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What guarantees a person’s right to vote?
  2. What are some reasons a person might not be allowed to vote in the U.S.?
  3. Why is voting important to democracy?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why do you think Gov. Terry McAuliffe decided to restore voting rights to convicted felons?
  2. Do you think convicted felons should be allowed to vote upon their release from prison? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think regaining the right to vote would make a difference for someone who has lost it? If so, how?
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