Virginia officials said on Monday that a plan has been outlined to restore voting rights to thousands of former nonviolent felons in the state. Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) campaigned with the restoration of voting rights as a central party line, and his administration continues to face the issue with only six months left in his term.
The project will not be easy—Virginia has no statewide felon database or electronics extending past 1995, which means that there are thousands of former nonviolent felons without voting rights that are not accounted for in the state’s penal system. “The biggest challenge involved locating felons who had been out of the legal system for years or even decades,” said Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth, Janet Kelly.
“We could easily find the felons who were currently in the system or who had previously expressed an interest in getting their rights back,” Kelly continued. “However, there is no accurate comprehensive database of felons who are not currently in the legal or corrections system and have been released from probation, and the stakeholder group helped us to find creative solutions to meet that challenge.”
But regardless of the difficulties faced in undertaking such an extensive project, McDonnell maintains that it is a necessary step for the state. “For past offenders, our goal is to grant civil rights back to as many as possible,” he said in a statement. “This is the right thing to do for all Virginians to help make the commonwealth a safer and better place.” McDonnell offered that the restoration of voting rights would keep former offenders from “committing another crime and returning to prison” and allow them to regain their lives as productive citizens of Virginia.
In the state, former felons can only regain their voting rights through written consent from the governor. In 2010, McDonnell approved a rule that would mandate decisions on voter restoration to be made within 60 days of application completion and submission. Since then, the state restored voting rights to 5,235 former inmates. After receiving criticism from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on May 28 that he could do more to streamline the process, McDonnell then stated that he would automatically restore voting rights to any individuals with non-violent felonies that had completed their sentences, paid all fines, and had no other pending felony charges on their record.
As of Monday, applications for voting rights restoration will be available online at the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website, and online submissions will be accepted beginning August 1.