On a Friday afternoon in April, Alicia Jiggetts, ’19, an intern in the Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, got an email from her supervisor asking her to come to the state Capitol. She arrived early and sat on the steps, waiting.
Time passed and a crowd gathered.
Then, Gov. Terry McAuliffe stepped forward with an announcement. As of April 22, 2016, he was restoring the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, and become a notary public to more than 200,000 ex-felons.
The backlash was swift. Lawsuits were filed before Jiggetts returned to work on Monday. Just a few months later, a Virginia Supreme Court decision canceled the governor’s mass restorations and required an individual review of every case.
This means that Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson’s office, every day, receives restoration requests and supporting documentation via phone, online forms, and mail. Office staff take the information to public safety agencies to research the individual and confirm they’ve completed their terms of supervision, including probation and parole. From there, Thomasson brings her recommendations for restoration to the governor. McAuliffe reviews them and makes his decisions. The secretary’s office then notifies the applicants of the outcomes.
Jiggetts assists in the process by scanning documents and entering information in a database. Traci DeShazor, deputy secretary of the commonwealth, says they also try to give their interns a chance to meet one-on-one with the secretary and understand the larger implications of their work.
“It’s an internship that, if they are interested in a life of public service, gives them an opportunity to see the different services that they can do,” DeShazor says.
Jiggetts particularly felt the impact this fall as they pushed to restore as many rights as possible before the end of voter registration. It was a hectic time, she says. She was inspired, though, after attending a summer leadership institute hosted by Virginia21, a non-partisan political action and advocacy group targeting young voters.
“They told us about voting and being active in our local, state, and national government and politics,” she says. “I feel like I’m even more driven now, because if my vote as a millennial is this important, then I know the votes of formerly convicted people are just as crucial.”
That clearer understanding of the role of local government also plays into her role as editor of RVAGOV, an online platform aimed at educating Richmond residents about local politics. Jiggetts frequently attends city council and school board meetings to report on discussions and decisions.
For a criminal justice and political science major who hopes to one day go to law school, these experiences weave together to reveal the intersection of law and public policy. They show Jiggetts what it means to be both a law enforcer and a law creator.
They also paint a picture of an engaged life, one where Jiggetts learns how to be an active participant in her community.
“When I came here as a freshman, I didn’t think that I would be involved in any of the things that I do,” she says. “I just wanted to major in criminal justice and get out. But I consider myself part of Richmond’s community now. I want to somehow make an impact, even if it’s not something that I’m recognized for. Even if I’m behind the scenes.”
Photo: Alicia Jiggetts, '19, with Governor Terry McAuliffe
Credit: Pierre Courtois, Library of Virginia