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Smyth County woman challenges Virginia’s process for restoring voting rights to convicted felons

The federal courthouse in Richmond, where the suit is filed. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

Toni Heath Johnson, who served time for drug possession, had her voting rights application denied without explanation. She is part of a suit that says Virginia is violating a provision of the 1870 law that readmitted the state to the Union after the Civil War.

For all of her adult life, Toni Heath Johnson has taken her right to vote seriously. “I have always voted when I was able to. I was raised in a family that believed in speaking up for what was right and what was wrong, and they instilled that in me. I’ve always been like that,” Johnson, 60, said in a recent interview.

But when the lifelong resident of Marion in Smyth County was released from incarceration last August — time she’d served for felony drug possession and distribution convictions in Washington County a few years ago — she learned that as a felon she had been disenfranchised and was no longer permitted to vote in Virginia.


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