Gov. Youngkin agreed to speed up voting rights restoration process, Sen. Lionell Spruill says

·3 min read

Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently came under fire for slowing the voting rights restoration process, but Sen. Lionell Spruill said this week the governor has agreed to shorten the time frame.

“He is trying to work with me,” said Spruill, D-Chesapeake. “He agreed to work on getting that process down to 30 days.”

Spruill, who chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, said he has met twice with the governor and Secretary of the Commonwealth Kay Cole James in the past few weeks to push back on the administration’s new policy.

When asked for comment on Spruill’s assertion, Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter wrote in an email that the governor is “committed to increasing the efficiency and transparency of the restoration of rights process for applicants.”

James did not respond to an interview request.

Those with a felony conviction automatically lose the right to vote in Virginia. The only way to restore it is by receiving approval from the governor after completing sentencing requirements.

The three previous administrations each pushed to streamline the process, but Youngkin moved in the opposite direction, quietly implementing a new policy of evaluating applicants on an individual basis using unspecified criteria.

Spruill, who met with the governor for a second time April 21, clarified that a 30-day time frame wouldn’t impact whether an application was approved. Applicants could still be rejected, but their applications wouldn’t be stuck in limbo.

“It’s a big step,” said Spruill.

The senator said he was not told when the 30-day time frame will take effect. During the meeting, he said James explained the application process currently takes 90 days.

Some organizations who work with those trying to have their rights restored previously told The Virginian-Pilot that some applications have been stuck in a pending status for up to 10 months — with no explanation.

Spruill added he and Youngkin agreed to meet for a third time but have not selected a date.

Youngkin has faced considerable backlash in recent weeks over the rollback of restoration rights.

Many legislators and organizations have called on the governor to explain what criteria is being used to evaluate applicants.

The governor’s office has only stated that applications are “assessed on an individual basis according to the law” and that Youngkin is “practicing grace for those who need it and ensuring public safety.”

Nolef Turns, a Richmond-based nonprofit, and the Fair Elections Center, a nonpartisan voting rights organization in Washington, have filed a joint lawsuit arguing the policy is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy collected 1,247 signatures on a petition calling on Youngkin to clarify and expedite the restoration process.

At a news conference last month in Richmond, Democratic legislators, including House Minority Leader Don Scott and Sen. Mamie Locke, slammed the governor’s new policy and said it was taking Virginia backward.

Locke, D-Hampton, has long pushed for a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to residents who’ve served their time.

She told The Pilot on Friday she was disappointed the governor had not solicited her input or invited her to take part in the meetings.

“I’ve been working on this for well over 10 years,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to talk to somebody who has been working on this problem in the meetings?”

Locke said the restoration rollback primarily will disenfranchise Black voters because the majority of incarcerated individuals are African Americans. And she believes that was a factor behind the policy change.

“I think somewhere in the back of their minds, they seem to think that’s a person who would vote for a Democrat, but that’s not always the case,” she said. “You don’t know how that person is going to vote.”

Regarding Youngkin’s remark that he is committed to transparency, Locke said she will believe it when she sees it.

“Why is it such a secret?” she said. “If you’re going to tell me that your process is transparent, then show me the transparency.”

Katie King,