Gov. set to keep promise on restoring voting rights
McDonnell says rights restoration important to felons’ social re-integration
Gov. Bob McDonnell is scheduled to fulfill his election promise that he will restore voting rights to more rehabilitated felons than any past executive in the state’s history.
McDonnell has granted about 3,800 restorations of rights to felons since announcing his goal in 2010, according to a spokesperson. Felons must apply for the restoration of their right to vote, to run for or hold public office and to serve on juries. To re-qualify for these rights, they must meet certain standards of behavior for time periods that are determined by the severity of their crime.
McDonnell’s goal of enhancing the restoration process was one of his 2009 campaign promises. Soon after his election, McDonnell implemented new restoration procedures that sped up the response process, with his staff vowing to approve or deny an application within 60 days of receiving it. Previously, these decisions could take six to 12 months to complete.
The 3,800 individuals whose rights have been restored during McDonnell’s tenure comprise only a fraction of the 350,000 Virginians disenfranchised by past felonies.
“This is a rolling review process as applications are submitted by felons wishing to have their rights restored,” McDonnell spokesperson Jeff Caldwell said in an email. “The Secretary of the Commonwealth continually reviews applications as they come in.”
Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly was unavailable for interviews for this article, and several state legislators did not respond to requests for comment.
As a former prosecutor, McDonnell worked to put felons behind bars but says he remains committed to civil rehabilitation.
“I believe the commission of a crime must have a tough and just consequence,” he said in a letter sent to those applying for the rehabilitation of their rights. “I also believe that once an offender has paid his debt to society, he deserves a second chance. It’s good government to restore ex-offenders to society and encourage them to become law-abiding members of society again.”
A restoration of civil rights does not restore an individual’s ability to possess a handgun or erase a conviction record.
Some of his political opponents, though, see his promotion of voting rights for felons as differing in spirit from the law he signed earlier this year restricting voting privileges to those who possess valid identification.
The new voter ID law in Virginia changes voting procedures for individuals lacking proper identification: unidentified voters are no longer able to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity, they can only submit provisional ballots that will be counted if the voter submits proper identification within the following days. With the passage of the law, however, came McDonnell’s mandate that the Commonwealth issue voter identification card to all registered voters.
“Protecting against voter fraud and making sure our elections are secure are critical for confidence in our democracy,” McDonnell said in an August release. “The legislation I signed into law is a practical and reasonable step to make our elections more secure while also ensuring access to the ballot box for all qualified voters.”
Democrats have criticized the law as being an overreaching solution to a minor problem, and one which will disenfranchise a higher amount of voters than the number of frauds it will prevent.
A similar law, which would have required voters in Pennsylvania to present a photo ID at polls, was blocked by a state appellate court Tuesday.