Take It from This Guy: Voting Can Make You Feel “Happy, Joyous and Free”

Although Bobby Lee was 60 years old when he cast his first votein 2016, his age didn’t keep him from feeling like a kid again. “The first time voting, I felt like I was 18,” he said about his visit to the polls. “Happy, joyous, and free.”

“I think it’s very, very important to take back the community and get more people involved to vote,” Bobby said. “It’s my responsibility to elect officials that are going to serve my community.”

After his last brush with the law in 2007, Bobby has been drug-free and out of trouble for 13 years, working hard to graduate from a Richmond community college with an associate’s degree. When Gov. McAuliffe restored his right to vote in 2016, Bobby believed that he earned the right to participate in the democratic process because of all of his hard work. 

Now, the General Assembly is debating a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the right to vote for people who have been convicted of a felony, but who have served their time and returned to society. Bobby explained that having his rights restored gave him political currency to get involved with politics by making sure “people at the top did what they said they were going to do. I could hold them accountable.” 

Breaking Free From a Cycle of Abuse and Incarceration

Bobby lost his voting rights when he was convicted at the age 17 of a felony for larceny. Until 13 years ago, Bobby had trouble keeping his life on track. But in 2007—facing incarceration once again—he got a second chance when a criminal charge against him was dismissed. He took that as a sign from God to change his life.  

“The cycle wasn’t going to stop until I stopped,” he said, crediting Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program with helping him stay sober since 2007. “[The 12-step program] gives you a chance to look at yourself and see what you did wrong.”

When he decided to go clean, Bobby lived in a halfway house and worked at a McDonald’s. He later enrolled in classes at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, earning an associate’s degree in human services and a certificate in substance abuse counseling.

Bobby’s record has prevented him from finding work in the field for which he’s preparing. He’s currently working as a custodian at a local high school and plans to enroll at Virginia Commonwealth University to continue his studies. “I’m constantly pushing myself,” he said. He’s been living in his own apartment for 2 years now and was hired full-time last year as a Richmond Public Schools employee, where he has benefits, including a 401k plan.

Bobby Takes Back His Community By Voting

Bobby said he jumped on the chance to have his voting rights restored after reading about Governor McAuliffe’s announcement in the newspaper and hearing a local radio DJ promote it. Bobby voted in every election since 2016. He also canvassed in Richmond neighborhoods, helping other returning citizens apply to restore their rights.

Bobby explained to me that, after years of feeling left out and ignoring the local news in the paper, he is now actively engaged with the political process by regularly reading the newspaper and understanding different candidates’ positions. “I know what’s going on now,” he said. “I used to be politically involved [as a teenager], but when I got my felonies, I just left politics alone.”
Our democracy works best when everyone is able to participate, including returning citizens like Bobby. People should be able to learn from their mistakes and move forward with healthy, productive lives and have a fair opportunity to succeed. You can take action now to support returning citizens and demand that their voting rights be automatically restored. Contact your legislator today and demand they support HJ555!