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January 11, 2013 (The Washington Post)

Virginia Governor Moves to Restore Voting Rights

An editorial in The Washington Post lauds Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) for supporting automatic restoration of voting rights for people who served sentences for nonviolent felonies.  It notes that McDonnell’s move to support a constitutional amendment for such restoration addresses “a patently racist distortion in Virginia’s democracy.”

Citing information from The Sentencing Project’s report, State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010, the editorial points out that “ 350,000 Virginians — almost 6 percent of the overall voting-age population — are felons who have completed their sentences and paid their debt to society but remain forbidden to vote. That’s one of the highest rates in the nation, thanks to a regime that permanently and indiscriminately disenfranchises them — shoplifters and murderers; bad-check writers and burglars — unless the governor himself, acting on an individual’s petition, restores his or her rights. Just three other states (Florida, Kentucky and Iowa) enforce such a rule.”

Even though McDonnell has granted “restoration petitions faster than any of his predecessors — some 4,400 to date, about three-quarters of them nonviolent,” the editorial points out that Virginia would still have the nation’s third largest disenfranchised population” at the end of McDonnell’s term without a constitutional amendment.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Felony Disenfranchisement, Drug Policy, Collateral Consequences