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Getting felons on VA voting rolls tough without game plan

By   /   June 12, 2013  /   1 Comment

Part 1 of 7 in the series Free to Vote in Virginia

By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent policy change to automatically restore voting rights to non-violent felons lacks a game plan to deliver the estimated 100,000 new voters to the registrar’s rolls by November.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent policy change to automatically restore voting rights to non-violent felons lacks a game plan to deliver the estimated 100,000 new voters to the registrar’s rolls by November.

ALEXANDRIA — Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent policy change to automatically restore voting rights to non-violent felons lacks a game plan to deliver the estimated 100,000 new voters to the registrar’s rolls by November.

There are an estimated 350,000 people in Virginia barred from voting because of a felony conviction. Of these, there are an estimated 100,000 non-violent felons have completed their sentences and paid all fines, making them eligible to benefit from this policy change.

A non-violent felon is an individual who was convicted of an offense — such as fraud or drug possession without the intent to distribute — but is still below the state’s threshold of violent crime.

Persons who have been convicted of a violent felony and other crimes — such as election fraud or burglary — must wait five years before they can submit an application to the governor.

Without a comprehensive database however, the governor’s office has no way of notifying released felons that their rights have been restored.

The governor is working with groups like the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project to bridge the gap.

Edgardo Cortes, director of the Advancement Project’s Virginia Voting Rights Restoration campaign, said the project has a hotline to get contact information to the governor’s office.

“It was formerly to help people with the application process. Now we’ve shifted course,” Cortes said. “People call, give us the info, and we can pass it to the secretary [of the commonwealth’s] office. We know there is a gap, and were trying to fill that with resources we have available and have established.”

Virginia is one of four states that strips felons of voting rights indefinitely. In the past, non-violent felons seeking to have their rights restored could petition the governor by submitting an application two years after they had completed their sentence and paid all fines.

In 2010, McDonnell expedited the process by eliminating the two year waiting period and by shortening the processing time to 60 days of  when a completed application was submitted. During his administration, voting rights have been restored to 90 percent of applicants.

This policy change will require the governor’s office to hire four extra staff members, bring to six the number of full-time employees dedicated to the job. The job pays between $16,000-$18,000, said Tucker Martin, McDonnell’s communications director.

With only a month left to arrange the logistics before the July 15 start date — and with no database —  the focus of the governor’s office is setting a precedent for the next governor.

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor have publicly advocated for an  improved rights restoration system.

“The work we are doing now will save the next governor a lot of time and allow them to hit the ground running and build on what we’ve done,” Martin said.

Bre Payton is an intern for the Virginia Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact her at bre@watchdogvirginia.org


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Part of 7 in the series Free to Vote in Virginia

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Bre is a national education reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact her at bpayton@watchdog.org, and follow her on Twitter @Bre_payton.

  • Jameson

    Great story…what is he thinking? Felons have proven they don’t want to buy into the society. Now we will let them pick our leaders? Why not let children and foreigners vote as well? Oh and animals too. This is the same as the GOP thinking that if they beat the dems to doling out amnesty, the Latinos will vote Republican. What a joke. McDonnell is only conservative until its time to make a decision.

Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau, is in no way affiliated with "The Virginia Watchdog". Any similarities between Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau and "The Virginia Watchdog" is completely coincidental and unintentional. Any inquiries into "The Virginia Watchdog" may be done through their site.

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