The door opened Monday for tens of thousands of nonviolent felons in Virginia to regain the right to vote, with state officials outlining the steps each will have to take to recapture their basic civil rights. Gov. Bob McDonnell has said up to 100,000 disenfranchised felons ultimately could be added to the voter rolls, serve on a jury or hold political office. “For past offenders, our goal is to grant civil rights back to as many as possible,” McDonnell said in a statement. “This is the right thing to do for all Virginians to help make the commonwealth a safer and better place.” A former prosecutor and attorney general, McDonnell said offering past offenders to opportunity to resume their lives as productive citizens, “we can better keep them from committing another crime and returning to prison.” He called that step a move to thwart “prison expansion” and to promote “smart government.”
The task will not be easy. The state has no database of past felons and no electronic records were kept before 1995.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly said the “biggest challenge” has involved locating felons who have been out of the system for years or decades.
“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 said.
For the 500 to 700 felons who complete their sentences each month in the state, basic rights are to be automatically restored, provided they satisfy other requirements.