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EXPERT AVAILABLE: Felony Disenfranchisement Law Expert Applauds Virginia Governor’s Voting Rights Restoration Order

April 25th, 2016

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217, hurstn@missouri.edu

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – This week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an order restoring voting rights for more than 200,000 convicted felons who have completed their sentences. S. David Mitchell, a University of Missouri law professor who is an expert on felon disenfranchisement and an advocate for automatic restoration of felons’ rights upon completion of sentences, agrees with McAuliffe’s decision and says that disenfranchisement laws hurt individuals, infringe on their rights and limit political power of already marginalized communities.

“The notion that an individual who has committed an offense should be denied their core fundamental right of citizenship—the right to vote—is unconscionable,” Mitchell said. “Governor McAuliffe’s decision to restore the right to vote to these citizens—a right that should not have been denied in the first place—is to be applauded and hopefully followed by other states.”

Mitchell says that most felons come from primarily communities of color and/or lower socio-economic status communities. He says a big problem is that upon release, those individuals are sent home without the ability to vote, adding an increased layer of issues to a community that is already suffering. He believes that those people end up being voiceless and powerless, thus limiting the political power of those communities.

“It is imperative that the voices of individuals who have committed offenses, been convicted and served their time also are heard as we pass legislation that not only impacts them, but their families as well,” Mitchell said. “Merely because they have committed an offense does not mean that their citizenship has been surrendered for programs, policies and legislation that still have direct impacts on their lives. It is critical that those most disaffected and marginalized in society do not have their voices silenced.”

Mitchell joined the University of Missouri School of Law faculty in 2006 following a two-year position at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before heading to Colorado to teach and continue his research on felon disenfranchisement, Mitchell served as a law clerk for the Honorable Andre M. Davis of the U.S. District Court of Maryland.

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