As It Happens

Virginia governor restores voting rights for 13,000 ex-felons. Kenneth Williams is one of them

Kenneth WIlliams, 67, has never had the opportunity to vote until now. Virginia was one of only four states that permanently stripped voting rights from felons.
R: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe as he speaks during a ceremony dealing with the restoration of rights at the Virginia Civil Rights memorial at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va., L: Kenneth Williams. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Kenneth Williams, 67, will be able to vote for the first time in his life in the upcoming American election. He was first convicted of a felony when was just a teenager. Another felony conviction, for a robbery, came more than thirty years ago. Virginia is one of the four states that permanently strips voting rights of felons. 
Kenneth Williams and his wife with Virginia Senator and Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. (Kenneth Williams )

This week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia restored voting rights to 13000 ex-felons. The Democratic governor had tried to restore those rights in a single executive order last month, but was told by the state Supreme Court that it must be done on a case-by-case basis. Among those cases was Williams'. 

If I got 10, 000 [people] out to vote, there would still be one missing. That one would be me- Kenneth Williams
As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch spoke with Kenneth Williams. 

Laura Lynch: Mr. Williams, what is it like for you to know you'll be permitted to vote in the upcoming election?

Kenneth Williams: It's exhilarating. I've never had the opportunity to vote in my life, being involved in the criminal element at a young age. Then, as I grew into adulthood, I didn't find any interest in even wanting to vote, until I became fully mature. Of course, I missed the opportunity, being a black man in America, to vote for the first black president of the United States, it made me really aware of how important the right to vote is. 

LL: What has it been like for you to watch elections go by all these years and you've been unable to participate?

KW: It's been challenging. I've been able to turn my feelings inwards, and find consolation within myself ... I would tell myself, 'Well, my vote won't count anyway,' or I would try and compensate by getting all my relatives and friends to vote the way I would vote if I could vote. But in the end, if I got 10 000 people to vote, there would still be one missing. That one missing would be me. 

LL: What do you think it's going to be like for you to step into the voting booth in November?

KW: Oh, I can't imagine. It's going to be an emotional moment. I'm going to have a couple of people around me for emotional support. My feelings of degradation will be limited, I don't think it will be gone. But I'll be there. And I'll have a voice. And I'm going to use it. 

Kenneth Williams now works to help reintegrate ex-offenders into society. For more on his story, listen to our full interview.

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