With a week left until Virginia has to determine how it will restore the voting rights of certain nonviolent felons, some advocates helping to shape the program are concerned about how the new policy will work. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) announced in late May that he would waive the waiting period and automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences and satisfied certain conditions. Grass-roots groups working with the McDonnell administration to streamline the process have spent weeks wrestling with details such as how to determine who will qualify, how to find the thousands who could be eligible, and whether felons should be required to pay outstanding fines before they can regain voting rights.
Restoring the rights of nonviolent felons has been a priority for McDonnell, who is in the final year of his term and cannot run for reelection. About 100,000 of Virginia’s estimated 350,000 felons are nonviolent, supporters of the governor’s program said.
McDonnell’s administration has restored the voting rights of more felons than any previous governor’s administration — more than 5,000 since 2010 — and the governor’s announcement in May was greeted by advocates as a departure from the Republican Party’s efforts to toughen voting laws.
Despite their concerns about the details of the program, advocates working with the administration praised McDonnell’s efforts and said they are hopeful that the new guidelines will help more felons regain their voting rights.