Wagner, Signer miss key points on restoration of voting rights

The race you’ve heard almost nothing about is starting to heat up, and yeah, it’s getting ugly between two of the Democratic Party lieutenant-governor candidates, and on a sensitive social issue that we highlighted in a recent edition of our New Dominion Magazine.

“Jody Wagner has called for immediate restoration of voting rights for all ex-felons upon completion of their sentence. She does not believe that Virginians who have completed their debt to society should prove themselves for a year before having their voting rights restored, nor does she believe we should play politics with this issue,” related a release from the Jody Wagner campaign that of course played politics with the restoration-of-voting rights issue, aiming squarely at rival Mike Signer, who has made the restoration of voting rights for felons upon completion of their sentences a key part of his campaign platform, though with a catch. Signer has said his idea is to institute a one-year waiting period for felons upon completion of their sentences whereupon their voting rights could be restored automatically.

But now he is reversing course, or at least is apparently doing so. “Mike is delighted that there appears to be a consensus on driving automatic restoration forward, and is more than happy to support the immediate restoration of rights for ex-offenders,” the Signer campaign shot back in a presser in response to the Wagner campaign release.

A criticism for both – it doesn’t sound to me that either have studied the restoration process to get a basic idea of how it really works. For my story in the New Dominion on the issue, I talked with Bernie Henderson, the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth who oversees the restoration-of-voting-rights process in the governor’s office. The review process that Henderson detailed for me that is currently in place – involving checks of court, probation and parole records of felons – would have to survive in some form or fashion whether restorations were to be done immediately upon the completion of a sentence or a year later under Signer’s original proposal.

And the idea that people who have been convicted of violent crimes – murder, rape, armed robbery – would have their voting rights restored automatically is one that might not come without some major controversy.

To me, the Signer proposal makes more sense, the original Signer proposal, that is, with a possible sticking point being the specifics of completion of one’s sentence. Is it release from incarceration? Completion of parole or probation? The end of supervision, which has been a hot topic among those pushing for a cleaner, more direct restoration process.

The Wagner retort that Signer seems to have agreed to makes no sense. It doesn’t delineate between nonviolent, less violent and violent offenders, one, and two it would be so cumbersome as to invite mistakes and abuse.

 

– Story by Chris Graham

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