ACLU, Cuccinelli criticize subcommittee vote on voting reforms
The ACLU of Virginia and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli added their voices to the chorus expressing disappointment House subcommittee failed to advance legislation that would reform Virginia’s law barring for life felons right to vote.
“For too long, Virginia has been out of step with the rest of the country by continuing to disenfranchise all felons for life,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga. “We are poised this year to make great strides forward, but were very disappointed this morning when the House subcommittee refused to take steps to reform this antiquated law.”
“While it is commendable that Gov. Bob McDonnell has restored rights to over 4,000 thousand people– more than his predecessors– it is still just a drop in the bucket,” Gastañaga siad. “It is preposterous to think he or any future Governor should be responsible for restoring civil rights to the more than 450,000 disenfranchised voters on a case by case basis. Virginia needs a more streamlined process and automatic restoration of rights, which even if just applicable to nonviolent offenders, would be a big step in the right direction. We shouldn’t refuse to take a step forward because it doesn’t address every possible concern.”
Cuccinelli and Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly joined McDonnell in vocalizing their support for rights restoration reform. Cuccinelli this morning testified before the House subcommittee in favor of legislation amending the state constitution to automatically restore civil rights for nonviolent felons.
“I have long railed against politicians ratcheting up several low-level, nonviolent offenses from misdemeanors to felonies – what I call ‘felony creep.’ Many lower-level offenses should not result in the permanent loss of civil rights for individuals. That’s why we ought to make it easier for those who have committed certain nonviolent offenses and served their punishment to regain their place in society. I am in favor of setting out in the code a list of selected nonviolent felonies for which restoration of rights would be available,” Cuccinelli said.
“Though I am disappointed with this morning’s outcome, I will continue to keep up the fight on this important issue. I would welcome the opportunity to testify before members of the Senate in an effort to underscore the importance of the restoration of civil rights to these individuals. I encourage other members of the General Assembly to join me in this important fight,” Cuccineilli said.
Under the Virginia Constitution, the governor, not the General Assembly, has control over the process for restoring voting rights of felons. Only the General Assembly has the power to put a constitutional amendment to change this before the people for a vote. A constitutional amendment requires approval by two separate legislative sessions (with a House of Delegates election in between) before it can be put to a referendum by Virginia voters.
If the legislature approves the change this year (2013) and in 2014, the amendment can be voted on in November 2014. If the legislature doesn’t act this year, the earliest the amendment could be put to a vote would be November 2016.