William & Mary law students working to get felons’ right to vote restored

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — Law school students at William & Mary will spend the next few months working to get felons the right to vote.

Under Governor Terry McAuliffe thousands of convicted felons have had their right to vote restored. Virginia is one of only a few states that require a governor’s action to do that. But with a new governor just months away, a group of law students have taken up the charge.

Paul Woodell doesn’t want to talk about the crime he was convicted of more than 40 years ago. But, since the day he finished his sentence, he spent all 30 years trying to get back his right to vote.

“I can’t even remember who the governor was then,” Woodell said. “That’s how long it’s been.”

Each year, Woodell said he did the same thing.

“(I was) going through the channels of going downtown and filing the paper work and submitting it,” he said. Like I’ve done before, nothing ever happened.”

Then last year Virginia Governor McAuliffe streamlined the process. In 2016, for the first time in decades, Paul Woodell voted.

“Now I got a say!” he smiled. “By saying is by voting.”

That’s why we went to the William and Mary Law School. Where students like Jakob Stalnaker and Noelle Harvey work in the Revive My Vote group.

“Under Governor McAullife the sole criteria is that you completed your sentence including probation and parole,” Stalnaker said.

For the last few years, the group has run a hotline and a website. They assist convicted felons who meet the governor’s standard.

“We can kind of cut through the red tape and that’s where we try to provide the most help,” Harvey said.

But both of them said starting this month it is crucial for convicted felons who want to vote to get in touch with them. Next month Virginia elects a new governor.

“Come January we don’t know if that process will change,” Harvey said. “We want to help as many people go through the current policy of getting their rights back while it’s still in effect.”

If you’re wondering what the right to vote may mean to someone, just ask Paul Woodell about his 30 struggle to cast a ballot.

“Oh it was very meaningful, made me feel like a part of society,” he said.

For more information visit the website: Revive My Vote