At first glance, this looks highly promising.
Governor Bob McDonnell today announced his Administration’s streamlined restoration of rights procedures. Highlighted by a 60-day turnaround period on all completed applications, compared to the previous standard of six months to one year or more, the process will be the fastest and fairest in recent Virginia history. The Governor also announced that he is shortening the time individuals convicted of non-violent felonies must wait before applying for their restoration of their rights; That period will be reduced from the current three years to two years. The Governor’s procedures follow his pledge during the 2009 gubernatorial campaign to improve and quicken the restorations process. McDonnell also announced his Administration has already acted upon nearly 200 applications, with decisions now made on all applications submitted with all the required information between the January 16th Inauguration and April 1st. The Administration has also acted upon many of the 650 applications left over from the Kaine administration, which will all be completed by July 15th.
I’ll be very interested to hear what groups and individuals concerned about this issue have to say. For now, Virginia State Conference NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani says:
Process is important, but results are even more important. The Virginia State Conference NAACP is encouraged that Governor McDonnell has already made a decision on the majority of completed applications submitted during the first few months of his Administration. We look forward to working with the Governor, Secretary of the Commonwealth and those who desire to have their rights restored in Virginia. The Governor, his staff and stakeholders have put alot of thought and time into producing a new process on the restoration of civil rights. We look forward to working with the Governor on this and other issues to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a better place for all.
UPDATE: The Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) says, “as you may recall, last month, ACDC passed a resolution urging swifter restoration of voting rights for convicted felons after service of their sentence. I am happy to report that today, Governor McDonnell announced new rules to move Virginia toward that goal.”
UPDATE #2: The reaction so far from advocacy groups is mixed. For instance, the Advancement Project says, “These changes hardly equal reform” and that “Restoration of voting rights should not be handled on a case by case basis.” The ACLU of Virginia says, “Even with these changes, Virginia will still rank last or next to last in the nation in restoration of voting rights, and there will still be more than 300,000 disenfranchised felons here.” I certainly agree that there’s no excuse for this policy at all and that it needs to be changed ASAP. When a non-violent felon has done their time and paid their debt to society, they should be allowed to vote. Period.
UPDATE #3: See after the “flip” for Del. David Englin’s statement on this.
While there has been much to criticize lately about the McDonnell Administration, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. By establishing a timely and more clearly defined process for non-violent ex-offenders seeking to have their rights restored, the Governor’s new policy has the potential make an important step in the right direction. In retrospect, it’s disappointing that our two previous governors did not implement such a policy, and I congratulate Governor McDonnell on this move. However, the proof of the McDonnell Administration’s commitment to this issue will be reflected in the numbers of citizens whose rights are restored. Despite other political differences, I hope we can work together on this issue, and I urge Governor McDonnell to challenge himself and his staff to restore voting rights to more Virginians than his two predecessors combined.
That said, this new policy in no way negates the need for a constitutional amendment that will automatically restore the voting rights of individuals who have already been punished for their crimes. It’s shameful that Virginia remains one of only two states where a felony conviction results in loss of voting rights for life, even after ex-offenders have served their time and reentered the community. This law was enacted during the Jim Crow era to suppress African American voting rights, and today it affects about 300,000 Virginians, more than half of whom are African American. I remain committed to repealing this Jim Crow law and ensuring the right to vote for all Virginians.