People disqualified from voting in Virginia because of their criminal records filed a lawsuit Monday against Gov. Glenn Youngkin and state elections officials challenging the state’s automatic disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions, the Associated Press reports. Virginia is one of only a few states that automatically take away voting rights for convicted felons unless the governor restores those rights. The lawsuit in federal court in Richmond by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia alleges the state is violating a Reconstruction-era federal law that established the terms of Virginia’s readmission to representation in Congress after the Civil War. The ACLU and Protect Democracy — a nonprofit that focuses on voting rights — filed the lawsuit on behalf of three Virginia residents with felony convictions and Bridging the Gap in Virginia, a nonprofit organization that helps former inmates overcome barriers to their transition back into society.
The lawsuit cites the Readmissions Act of 1870, which prohibited former Confederate states from including in their constitutions any provision that would disenfranchise their citizens other than people convicted of committing crimes that were common law felonies at the time. Today, Virginia’s criminal code designates numerous crimes as felonies, including drug offenses. Youngkin’s administration says it has shifted away from a partly automatic rights restoration system used by three of Youngkin’s predecessors. The lawsuit says the impact of Virginia’s disenfranchisement provision “has been exacerbated” by Youngkin’s recent actions. Tati Abu King, one of the plaintiffs, has applied to have his voting rights restored after spending 11 months in prison on a 2018 felony drug possession charge. “I feel like I don’t have anybody to speak for me. I have no say on who represents me,” King said.