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Roanoke returned citizen supports McAuliffe's move to re-establish voting rights

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - More than 200,000 convicted felons now have the right to vote, run for office, and serve on a jury here in the Commonwealth.

Governor Terry McAuliffe made the announcement Friday after issuing an executive order.

The order restores voting and civil rights of Virginians who've served their time.

The Governor says his actions will help reverse the state's history of trying to suppress African Americans from voting.

Eddy Watkins is a Roanoke man who had his voting rights restored last year, but he says this move by the Governor takes down just one more barrier that people like himself face when trying to re-enter society.

Watkins says since leaving jail two years ago, he has gone to college, gotten a job, and even volunteered to help in political campaigns.

Watkins' advisor and criminal justice consultant, Shawn Hunter, says it also has added benefits for society.

"It helps recidivism to go down because it makes these individuals feel like they have a sense of self worth. Now the politicians are going to be courting them because they need their vote now," said Hunter.

"Our debt has been paid, and we're working, we're going to school, we're living life in society now, and we're taking care of families, things of that nature, paying taxes, so we want the full restoration of our rights. We don't want to feel like second class citizens," said Watkins.

Hunter says that lowered recidivism rate means taxpayers will also be paying less to keep people incarcerated.

Next week he plans to begin contacting all of his clients to make sure every returned citizen is aware they now have several more civil rights to celebrate.

Watkins says he plans to celebrate this November, when he and a group he plans to organize will all head to the polls for the general presidential election.