First, the good news.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is on track to restore voting rights to more felons than either of his Democratic predecessors – a surprising development for a conservative Republican who served as a law-and-order attorney general.
He has won praise from African Americans and civil rights groups for scrapping plans to require essays as part of felons’ applications and vowing instead to act on each case within 60 days.
His administration has approved 780 of 889 applicants – 88 percent, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office, which handles the requests.
Wonderful, good work, kudos to Bob McDonnell for restoring 780 ex-felons’ voting rights! Even more impressive is that McDonnell’s outpacing his two Democratic predecessors (a subject for another day, but why on earth Warner and/or Kaine didn’t go a lot further than they did in this area is simply mind-boggling). Now, the bad news.
Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU’s Virginia chapter, praised McDonnell, but added: “There are more than 300,000 people who still don’t have their voting rights restored. The governor’s reforms are good, but they don’t tackle the problem. It simply doesn’t address the real issue.”
So, 780 ex-felons’ voting rights restored, but 300,000 still with their fundamental rights deprived, despite having “done their time and paid their debt to society.” That needs to change; Virginia needs to join almost every other state in the country – and almost every other democracy in the world – that automatically restores ex-felons’ voting rights. Until then, applause for Bob McDonnell – or a future governor, Democratic or Republican – will be tepid at best.