George Hawkins had a long to-do list when he left the Greensville Correctional Center on May 3, a free man for the first time in his adult life: stay out of trouble, find work, enroll in school, and relearn the streets of Richmond, which he hasn’t known since he was locked up at age 17.
And, crucially to him: register to vote.
Since his release last month, Hawkins, who spent 13 years in prison, has secured stable housing with his father, made money by painting houses and repairing cars, and started taking college courses in business administration. But he will not be able to vote in Virginia’s elections on Tuesday, barring a last-minute reprieve, due to a new policy Governor Glenn Youngkin announced in March.
Under Youngkin’s predecessor, Virginians automatically regained the right to vote upon leaving prison, an approach that would have made Hawkins eligible to vote. But Youngkin has revived the state’s lifetime ban on voting for people with felony convictions. Now Hawkins and the approximately 12,000 people released from Virginia prisons each year—a population in which Black people are massively overrepresented—must apply to the governor, who determines on an individual basis who deserves to regain their right to participate in the democratic process.
Hawkins has never voted, but says he dreamed of doing so while he was incarcerated. He applied for voting rights soon after leaving lockup, hoping he could participate in the June 20 primary elections. As that date approaches, he still isn’t sure where his application stands, or even how or where to ask for an update. Unless the governor deems him worthy of casting a ballot in the coming days, Hawkins will miss out on the first election since he was freed.