Ex-Felons Voting for the First Time Could Shake Virginia Governor’s Race
A massive effort is underway to get formerly incarcerated people to the polls.
A massive effort is underway to mobilize the potential new voters. Ex-offenders have hit the streets to register others like them to vote, often teaming up with community groups. “There’s a lot of work being done to make sure they’re planning to be a significant part of this election,” says Price, who also directs a voter engagement project with the nonprofit New Virginia Majority that has targeted ex-offenders.
In Richmond, few people have registered as many felons to vote as Muhammad As-saddique Abdul-Rahman. The 54-year-old was himself most recently released from prison in 2002—he went in for the first time as a teenager on felony robbery charges. After getting out, he struggled for years with homelessness and alcoholism. But things changed after he got sober, and again the day McAuliffe announced his rights were restored.
That night he went online to register to vote, and the next day he set out to register others. “I went to Monroe Park, where they have breakfast for the homeless and I knew there were a lot of ex-offenders,” he says. “I went to drug houses, to the neighborhoods I grew up in, the neighborhoods I had lived in. I went to AA meetings, different churches, soup kitchens.” Within a few weeks, he says he had registered some 500 people. Hoping to turn his sudden calling into a career, he searched online for voter registration jobs and stumbled upon a phone number for New Virginia Majority; the group hired him as a full-time staffer. Abdul-Rahman estimates he has now personally registered about 2,000 people.