- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Historic win for voting rights in Virginia
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) unveiled a plan this week to automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of nonviolent felonies.
The move won praise from civil rights advocates who have long called for reform in the state, one of several with unusually harsh felon disenfranchisement laws.
“For too long, Virginia has been successful in implementing a law designed to target minority voters: one in five African-American adults in the state is disenfranchised,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga. “This expedited process is a move towards repairing some of this damage. We look forward to working with the Governor as he implements the new system.”
Written into the state constitution, Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law denies voting rights for life to individuals with felony convictions, giving the governor sole power to restore voting rights for individual felons who apply after a two-year waiting period.
Virginia is one of only four states to permanently disenfranchise all individuals with past felony convictions unless they go through the onerous process of seeking restoration of their rights. The others are Florida, Kentucky and Iowa.
On May 29, McDonnell announced a plan to automatically restore voting rights for nonviolent felons in Virginia who complete their sentence, probation or parole; pay all court costs, fines and restitution and meet all court-ordered conditions; and have no pending felony charges. The plan is set to take effect on July 15.
McDonnell said in a statement:
I got my start in state public service in Virginia as a prosecutor. I strongly believe the foremost obligation of any government is to provide for the security and protection of its citizens. When someone commits a crime they must be justly punished. That is why, during my time in the General Assembly and as both attorney general and now governor, I have championed major reforms to ensure that sentences are appropriately set by law to punish those who commit serious offenses and to ensure that those convicted of offenses serve the sentence imposed.
However, once these individuals have served their time and fully paid for the offenses they committed, they should be afforded a clear and fair opportunity to resume their lives as productive members of our society. America is a land of opportunity and second chances; a land where we cherish and protect our constitutional rights. For those who have fully paid their debt for their crimes, they deserve a second chance to fully rejoin society and exercise their civil and constitutional rights.
McDonnell asked Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly to meet with stakeholders to develop procedures for administering the program.
Among those applauding McDonnell’s action was Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican running against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe to replace McDonnell in November. Cuccinelli had opposed changing the law in the past, but he changed his position after the release this week of a report from the bipartisan Rights Restoration Advisory Committee he commissioned in March.
“Many people in our communities have committed certain low-level, nonviolent offenses in the past, paid their restitution and debt to society, and have gone on to live law-abiding lives,” said Cuccinelli. “We needed to simplify the process for those who want to regain their civil rights so they can return to full participation in society.”
Nearly 6 million U.S. citizens — 4 million of them out of prison and living and working in the community — are unable to vote because of state laws disenfranchising felons. As is the case with Virginia’s, those laws have a disproportionate impact on people of color, with 13 percent of African-American men across the U.S. having lost their right to vote because of them — seven times the national average.
A study by The Sentencing Project released last year found there were three states where one-fifth or more of African Americans are disenfranchised because of felony convictions. Besides Virginia at 20 percent, they are Kentucky at 22 percent and Florida at 23 percent.
At the national level, legislation has been introduced in the last several Congresses to restore voting rights in federal elections to disenfranchised felons who’ve been released from prison. In the current Congress, the proposal is part of the Voter Empowerment Act of 2013, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Robert Brady (D-Pa.).
While civil rights advocates are lauding McDonnell’s action, some are calling on him to go further by automatically restoring voting rights to all Virginia citizens with past criminal convictions who are living and working in the community.
“Allowing Americans with past criminal convictions to have a voice in their community will reap great benefits in terms of public safety and a more robust democracy,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
A fellow writer asked me yesterday: What do you read? Which writers do you value? Who influences your style? This knocked me for six. It’s a Big Question. I have a long history in libraries and five bookcases stacked with a lifetime’s paperbacks (cheapskate) and short of trawling the shelves for authors’ names which often escape me, I didn’t think I had time to respond. IRS accounts waiting on my dining table reproach me every time I walk past doing something more interesting. But this intriguing question slipped into my mind’s cogs as they surreptitiously rotated. First off, I admit the guilty pl Read on →
Instead of naming their new subdivisions the Dune Cottages, the Ocean Forest Cottages and the Riverside Cottages and then running their Dune Avenue down the Sea Island Spit, where the Loggerhead Turtles nest and 144 species of birds come to rest, making reference to the sea of effluent on which their cottages sit would be more honest, but it wouldn't attract many new buyers for Sea Island Coastal Properties' million dollar lots, would it? And it probably wouldn't please the realtors trying to move the 29 extant mansions in the million dollar plus range (For anyone looking to pay less for Read on →
That the Crimean Crisis would be exploited by Republican Congressional leaders to criticize President Obama was inevitable. Politics hasn’t stopped at the water’s edge in the United States for a very long time. What wasn’t inevitable was the shamelessness of Senator John McCain’s denunciation of President Obama in a speech to the most powerful ethnic foreign policy lobby in Washington. In a March 4th address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Arizona Republican complained about a “feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.” Yet after insisting that Russian action in Crimea “must be made unacceptable to the world commu Read on →
The feeling of your tires losing traction on an icy road is hard to label. You'd think it might feel like falling, a sudden stop or start, a gut-twisting vertigo as the ground drops away, but it's not that dramatic. Instead of physics slapping you with your own momentum, you feel, perhaps, like the road has just started lying to you. The motions of your hands and feet, something you've felt so very confident in for years, aren't following through on their promise. You're clearly steering in one direction, applying just so much pressure to the pedals, but the road Read on →