Convicted Felons Fight To Vote

By: Sarah Batista
By: Sarah Batista

April 28, 2005

Should convicted felons who've paid their debt to society be allowed the same rights as everyone else? Some former felons are fighting to get back some basic rights.

Kembra Smith is a mother, homeowner, and law firm employee. This is normal by most standards, but Smith is also a convicted felon.

"I've been home for approximately 5 years this December,"explained Smith.

Smith served her time, was even granted clemency by President Bill Clinton. Now years after her release, she is still being denied the right to vote.

"It is still kind of damaging that I'm different from everyone else and can't be afforded the same opportunity to vote," Smith said.

In Virginia, convicted felons are forever stripped of their voting rights unless they complete a lengthy application process years after their release. Governor Mark Warner has pushed to shorten that process spawning concerns from local legislatures.

"If you're going to have an easy process, lets make sure we're keeping it to just those crimes that are the most modest, the most minor, and make sure that everybody else who might be more of a threat at least has to go through all these other steps to show they're ready," said local Delegate Rob Bell.

Today several civil right groups joined in Richmond, forming what they call the Advancement Project. They want to lock in support by launching an all out campaign involving lawmakers, the media, and community groups. They also want tens of thousands of Virginia's convicts to flood the state's clemency board with applications to get their rights restored.

"Eventually they're going to be our neighbors. So we need to welcome these people coming in to help them have a successful integration where they don't feel different from everyone else," said Smith.

With enough momentum the group hopes to one day change the law and free former criminals from what they call injustice.

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