Surprise: Could Restoration of Rights Emerge as Big 2013 Issue?

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    ( – promoted by lowkell)

    by Paul Goldman

    Two months ago, I would have said the issue of restoring the voting rights of those convicted of a felony would never be a front-burner 2013 campaign issue. I would have bet George W. Bush’s ranch on it. Dick Cheney’s too. But politics today moves at Internet speed. Governor McDonnell is quoted in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch as promising more executive action on the issue, above and beyond what he has done to date, the most of any Governor on the subject in VA history.

    As a numbers matter, it is one of the biggest voting rights issues in the state right now, perhaps the biggest: roughly 400,000 Virginians fall into the category that has cost them the right to vote due to Article 1, Section 2 of the Virginia constitution. When we consider that they all have family members and friends, we are talking a big voting group. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this is not just a “Democratic” issue, but rather the polls show a solid block of GOP voters who are interested in the issue.

    Politically speaking, overwhelming majorities of voters say the current constitutional lifetime ban – only removable by the Governor – on ex-felons  being allowed to vote again is too restrictive. Virginia is one of only 5 states which are in this lifetime ban category, so we get a fair amount of national attention from the media and whatever on the issue.

     

    Governors Warner and Kaine moved the ball forward in the issue, the ban itself first came under gubernatorial scrutiny under Governor Wilder.

    In 1982, Democrats first tried to amend the Constitution’s rigid procedures which, in effect, have made it a lifetime ban for all practical purposes for most of the 400,000. The voters rejected the Democratic amendment. Since then, the issue has taken any number of twists and turns. McDonnell made it a surprise 2009 issue. But it was back burner.

    WHY COULD THE ISSUE EMERGE FRONT BURNER THIS YEAR IN THE GOV RACE?

    Voting rights issues have some saliency now, and this is a big one on the numbers. MORE IMPORTANTLY, the issue falls into the pattern of 2013 campaign issues in this regard.

    Terry McAuliffe, and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly are for automatic restoration of rights for non-violent felons. This has basically been the Democratic position for a long time. Senator Henry Marsh wanted to do it legislatively in 2000, Senator Lucas put in a Constitutional Amendment in this past GA Session.

    Moreover, Governor McDonnell backed Lucas on it. So the issue is teed up as never before entering an GUV election year. Since he is a Republican, this has had a very big effect on the matter as a political campaign issue in 2013.

    Ken Cuccinelli and Republican leaders in the General Assembly have their differences on the issue. He testified for a Constitutional Amendment, and they rejected it big time.

    SO WE SEE A PATTERN WHICH HAS SOME 2013 KEY ELEMENTS: Terry and the Democrats are united: Cuccinelli and the GOP are split. While that is admittedly a very simplistic sort of bumper sticker thing – and not all splits and unity are equal so to speak – campaigns often work better with a very basic narrative. You skip over the details.

    The bottom line: Since this is an issue which unites Democrats, but splits Republicans, it might emerge as 2013 campaign issue for this reason and no other. The press likes this kind of thing, warring factions. It fits their Cuccinelli narrative too. Moreover: Cuccinelli is not backing down on his testimony in favor of the Amendment killed by the GOP in the House but supported by Democrats.

    And then there is this:  Terry’s ticket will be fully supportive of automatic rights restoration regardless of the nominees down ballot. But what will be the GOP ticket’s position? There is a good chance they will have different opinions on the issue, perhaps widely different ones depending on who gets nominated for AG and LG.

    Historically, such ticket splits have often proved a problem for one or more members of the ticket. It killed the 1985 GOP ticket and the 1997 Democratic ticket. My gut still says: This will not be a major 2013 campaign issue. But it is a lot bigger right now than I would have predicted 60 days ago.