On Tuesday a task force commissioned by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli found no legal basis for either the governor or the General Assembly to automatically restore the voting rights of former convicted felons, but the governor found a way to do it anyway, Colorlines‘ Brentin Mock reports.
Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he would lift the permanent voting ban for those who have nonviolent felonies on their records on a case-by-case basis, sending a letter to each person he can find saying that his or her rights have been restored.
Before this, a person with a nonviolent felony had a two-year wait after release from prison to begin an application process that might lead to voting rights being restored within 60 days of submitting that application. Those with violent or drug felony convictions will still have to wait five years to apply for rights restoration.
According to Rebecca Green, co-director of the Election Law Program at William and Mary Law School in Virginia, the fact that the governor can simply write a letter to individuals to restore rights shows that his powers are expansive enough that he should be able to provide automatic rights restoration, while the fact that those with violent and drug felonies still have to wait and apply shows there continues to be a lack of due process.
“In a world where the governor could literally flip a coin to determine whose rights are restore and whose aren’t, I don’t understand why he then couldn’t issue blanket restoration for all rights,” says Green. Yet, if McDonnell did attempt a blanket restoration, “he would be doing what the [task force said the] legislature can’t do, which is change the law.”
Read The Root’s interview with Kemba Smith on her advocacy for restoring felon voting rights in Virginia.
Read more at Colorlines.