McDonnell applauded for expedited voting rights restoration process

bob-mcdonnell-linksGov. Bob McDonnell earned praise from across the spectrum today for his decision to expedite the process for restoring the voting rights of Virginians with non-violent felony convictions.                

“I applaud Gov. McDonnell for his work to expedite the process of restoring voting rights to Virginians who have paid their debt to society,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who as governor restored the rights of more than 4,400 Virginians and worked to increase the availability of applications and timeliness of his administration’s responses to restoration requests. “Under governors of both parties, Virginia has made significant progress to restore the rights of thousands of Virginians who deserve the chance to fully participate in their civic duty as they reenter society. I have long supported overturning the law that automatically disenfranchises felons who have completed their terms, but this is a step in the right direction.”

“Today, Gov. McDonnell is taking an important step forward on an issue of justice for Virginians who have paid their debt to society,” said Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe. “I’ve supported replacing the application process because it’s a common sense way to make it easier for Virginians who were convicted of a non-violent offense to have their right to vote restored after they have paid their debt.”

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.

This year, the Virginia General Assembly again failed to pass any measures that would reform Virginia’s disenfranchisement law.

“We are grateful to the governor for his leadership in reforming the voter restoration process,” said ACLU of Virginia Board President Jayne Barnard. “The Governor has made strides toward improving democracy in Virginia by restoring voting rights automatically to Virginians with non-violent felony convictions. The Governor will be giving voice to thousands of Virginians who have been denied participation in elections due to an antiquated and regressive voting law in the Commonwealth.”

“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 G. 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.”

“While we are glad to see that the Governor has taken steps to improve the restoration process by removing the waiting period and other barriers for non-violent felons, more work remains,” said ACLU of Virginia Legislative Counsel and Staff Attorney Hope Amezquita. “Virginia’s law denying for life the right to vote to individuals with felony convictions is written into the state constitution. It is our hope that with continued leadership and advocacy from some of Virginia’s highest elected officials across the spectrum, state legislators will finally see the wisdom of ridding Virginia of this punitive law once and for all.”

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