Wednesday, May 29, 2013

McDonnell's years of work lead to voting rights restoration ... Cuccinelli jumps on board

 Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

Since 2010, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has restored the voting rights of 4,843 nonviolent felons, a campaign goal the Republican leader has pursued for years.

Effective July 15, he will automatically restore those rights to nonviolent felons on an individual basis, writes reporter Olympia Meola at the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Gov. Bob McDonnell today will announce that he is automatically restoring the voting rights of nonviolent felons on an individual basis.

The sweeping administrative action -- while not an instantaneous blanket restoration -- is as far as the governor can go within current Virginia law, administration officials said.
Janet Kelly, Secretary of the Commonwealth, added, "We are on the as-soon-as-possible timeline."
Wednesday's announcement is just the latest installment on an issue McDonnell has been working on since the beginning of his administration.

Reporter Meola explained the process:
McDonnell's change applies only to nonviolent felons. Under current procedures, there is a two-year waiting period before a nonviolent felon can apply for restoration of rights. Under the current process, the governor does not have to approve any particular application.

McDonnell is removing the waiting period and the subjectivity. Once the administration verifies that a nonviolent felon has completed his sentence and probation or parole, and paid all fines and restitution, the governor will send the person a letter restoring his rights, provided the individual has no pending felony or misdemeanor charges.
Staff members have said that former prosecutor McDonnell believes in punishment but he also believes in redemption and opportunity.

"Virginia is one of only four states to permanently take away the right to vote from citizens with felony convictions," write Darrell K. White and Mark Croston at the Times-Dispatch.

White, president of the Baptist General Convention, and Croston, president of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, noted that "restoring voting rights sends the message that citizens who want a second chance are welcome as full members of our communities," and added:
Gov. Bob McDonnell understands this. A man of deep Christian faith himself, he has repeatedly called on the General Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment to automatically restore rights to people with nonviolent felony convictions upon completion of their sentences. “Once individuals have served their time, and paid their fines, restitution and other costs, they should have the opportunity to rejoin society as fully contributing members,” McDonnell said in a January statement. “As a nation that believes in redemption, we want more productive citizens and fewer people returning to prison.”
Unfortunately, the governor’s pleas to the legislature have gone unheeded. The General Assembly has refused to pass several proposals for automatic voting rights restoration, leaving no further legislative options. But there is another way. While Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recently announced his view that McDonnell does not have the constitutional authority to issue an executive order to automatically restore civil rights for citizens with felony convictions after they have completed their sentences, we disagree with that analysis. The Virginia Constitution makes it clear that the governor has the exclusive power to do so, making a difference for hundreds of thousands of citizens who have paid their debts to society.
Perhaps in a bit of "me, too" campaign enthusiasm, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli jumped the Governor's planned announcement with one of his own on Tuesday. Virginian-Pilot reporter Julian Walker took a look at Cuccinelli's change of heart:
Time and again during his state Senate service, Ken Cuccinelli opposed attempts to change Virginia’s Constitution so certain nonviolent felons automatically regain their voting rights.

Now, the attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate has positioned himself at the vanguard of efforts to improve the state’s rights-restoration process, saying he has had a change of heart.
Governor McDonnell has public opinion on his side as well as the Baptist Assembly, the Catholic Conference of Virginia, the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church USA, proving once again to be a leader who is willing to fight for the issues that are important for Virginians.

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