Church groups push to make voting easier for felons

Posted: Friday, September 21, 2001

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) -- Virginia churches are lobbying the state to make it easier for felons to regain their voting rights.

Thirty-seven states automatically restore voting rights to felons once they've served their time or completed a waiting period. Virginia requires case-by-case approval by the governor.

Richmond's Roman Catholic diocese believes the state's policy violates Christian principles of forgiveness and redemption.

''From a human perspective, if they've done their time, they ought to be reinstated fully. They ought to be able to get to vote,'' Bishop Walter Sullivan said.

This summer, the 340,000-member Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church endorsed restoration of voting rights to felons after they complete their sentences.

Representatives from several South Hampton Roads churches gathered at Chesapeake's Bethany Baptist Church last month and started a petition drive urging legislators to relax the requirements for restoring rights.

State Sen. Yvonne Miller, who favors changing the system, thinks greater church involvement might influence lawmakers who have opposed the change.

Sen. Kenneth Stolle, who chairs the Virginia State Crime Commission, has opposed restoring voting rights. But this summer he appointed a task force to study current procedures.

Any changes would have to be approved by state lawmakers and through a statewide referendum amending the Virginia Constitution.

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