Advocates for restoring the voting rights of Virginia felons are praising the steps Gov. Bob McDonnell has taken to streamline the process but say a major impediment remains: insurmountable fines and court costs. McDonnell’s administration has restored the voting rights of more than 6,800 Virginians, more than any previous administration. In July, he announced a new procedure that eliminated a two-year waiting period and made restoration almost automatic for nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences and probation and paid all court-imposed debt. But for disenfranchised Virginians like Clyde Mowyer of Colonial Heights, the financial hurdle means his chance of regaining the right to vote is no greater now than it was before McDonnell reformed the process. Mowyer, who was convicted of credit card theft and multiple driving violations, estimated that he owes nearly $20,000 to multiple jurisdictions — a debt he will never be able to repay on his monthly disability income of $639. “After paying for utilities and a place to stay, I have $59 left to live on,” Mowyer said. “There’s no possible way I can pay anything. I appreciate what the governor did in trying to make an automatic restoration process, but it doesn’t help people that are disabled.”
Edgardo Cortes, director of the Advancement Project’s Virginia Voting Rights Restoration Program, said his organization has come across many people in the same position as Mowyer. … Cortes said advocates have brought the issue to the attention of the governor, who seems to believe that paying one’s debt to society is an important condition to regaining the right to vote.
“This is an ongoing process,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said in an email. “We continue to take in information from stakeholder groups about how the restoration of rights system could work even better. We are open to considering all ideas for improving the process, and look forward to continuing the dialogue.”