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Groups critical of McDonnell action on voting rights

Edited by Chris Graham

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced today a new procedure for restoring the voting rights of former felons that voting-rights advocacy groups feel falls short of the goal of making it easier for people who have paid their debt to society to get back on the voting rolls.

“These changes hardly equal reform. Virginia is one of only two states remaining that permanently deny access to the franchise for people with felony convictions and when/if a person right’s are restored it is still up to the discretion of the governor. Restoration of voting rights should not be handled on a case by case basis,” said Sabrina Williams of The Advancement Project in a press statement.

The new procedure announced by McDonnell reduces the waiting period for nonviolent offenders to have their rights restored from three years to two years, and sets forth that all applications for restoration will be processed within 60 days of the necessary information having been gathered from the applicant, the courts and other agencies. The waiting period for reapplying for restoration of rights after being rejected has also been reduced, from two years to one.

“These changes are commendable, but it’s the results that matter in the end,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The governor will need to both implement these technical changes and devote more resources to the voter restoration process in order to increase the numbers.

“We feel like this is just the beginning of a real conversation with the Governor about reforming the voter restoration process in Virginia,” added Willis. “Even with these changes, Virginia will still rank last or next to last in the nation in restoration of voting rights, and there will still be more than 300,000 disenfranchised felons here.”

Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states that permanently disfranchise all felons, leaving the restoration process up to the governor. Advocates for reform continue to focus most of their energies on amending Virginia’s Constitution to allow for restoration through an administrative process.