“I believe in second chances and making our Commonwealth more open and accessible to all,” said Northam in what looked like an effort to rescue his own reputation as he continues to resist calls to resign over racist blackface incidents.
The governor noted that during his time in office, 10,992 former felons in Virginia have regained their voting rights. In 2016, the Sentencing Project estimated there were 408,570 people in Virginia who had completed their felony sentences and remained disenfranchised.
“Virginians who have repaid their debts should be able to return to society, get a good job, and participate in our democracy. This is an important achievement that marks my administration’s unwavering commitment to fairness, rehabilitation, and restorative justice,” he said.
The push to allow felons who have served their time to vote again started under Virginia’s two previous governors, Bob McDonnell (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D). During his 2017 gubernatorial campaign, Northam campaigned heavily on the issue of voting rights.
Northam has also apologized for his history of wearing blackface, a practice with racist and white supremacist roots that was used derisively in minstrel shows to mock black people. Yet the embattled governor has defied calls for his resignation, including from many top Democrats.
The board of directors of New Virginia Majority, a group that helps former felons get their voting rights back, has also urged Northam to resign. The group did not immediately return a request for comment on the governor’s statement Tuesday.
On Monday, BuzzFeed reported that Northam plans to go on a “listening tour” across Virginia to engage in discussions about race.