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Advocate pushing to register 1,000 ex-offenders to vote in Roanoke

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Voting rights have been restored to nearly 5,000 ex-offenders in the Commonwealth.

This nearly a month after Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order to restore voting and civil rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons.

The biggest hurdle without a doubt is information.

Many people who have spent dozens of years without the right to vote, sit on a jury, or run for office simply don't know how to begin the process of getting registered.

That's why community advocate Shawn Hunter tells me he's going around town helping people do just that.

Two of the men he helped get registered Friday are now able to vote for the first time in more than 30 years.

"I was 20. That's a long time ago man," said barber and ex-offender Tony Scott.

Scott is working at The Finest Barber Shop, with a copy of his brand new voter registration card on the wall above him.

"Right there, right there, that's me. I'm proud of that right there, that's why I put it up there," said Scott.

It's been 32 years since Scott was convicted of a felony.

He's never voted before in his life.

Hunter says it only took three minutes to have him fill out the paperwork.

"I visited all the barber shops in Roanoke, because I know that the majority of the barbers, African-American barbers, they got their license in prison, so I know that 9 times out of 10 a whole lot of them haven't gotten their rights restored," said Hunter.

Barbers like Louis Ingram, who owns Finest Kind.

"I have never voted, not one time. It's been a long time," said Ingram.

Ingram says the Governor's executive order, restoring civil rights for more than 200,000 ex-offenders is long overdue.

"I feel like I deserve the right to vote because it's been a long time since I was able to vote, and now that I'm a business owner and I pay my taxes and everything, it feels good, it feels real good," said Ingram.

Now that Virginia has crossed the hurdle of actually restoring those rights, Hunter says Ingram and Scott are part of his new goal.

"1,000 voters in Roanoke before November elections," said Hunter.

Hunter says the new laws, and his work, will help keep the state safer.

"What the Governor did was help reduce recidivism because it's going to encourage these individuals to, hey, I'm not going to commit a crime, because if I commit a crime, I can lose something that I never had," said Hunter.

Hunter also says his registration push could have a significant impact on the voting demographics in Roanoke.

Right now, the average registered voter is 65 years old.

"You've got between 18 and 45 year olds that's going to be inspired to come out and vote, and I'm trying to push them, trying to inspire them to come out and exercise a right that you never used before, because they could be the determining factor," said Hunter.

Ingram and Scott say next November, they'll finally be part of that determining factor.

"For a long time I didn't have a say, but you just fall victims to whatever goes on, but now I have a say," said Scott.

Earlier this week Virginia Republicans filed a lawsuit in Virginia's Supreme Court against McAuliffe's order, saying he violated a separation of powers, and hope the order is reversed, but Hunter says he will continue to push towards his goal while it's legal.

He plans to host a voter registration drive on June 18th at Paradise Cathedral in Roanoke.