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