Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Tuesday that the governor cannot automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences by issuing an executive order, but there are ways to streamline the process. Cuccinelli released a report from an advisory committee he set up in March to look at the issue. He created the committee following the defeat of measures in the General Assembly last session designed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons. Both Gov. Bob McDonnell and Cuccinelli, who is the Republican candidate for governor, threw their support behind a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons this year. Following the defeat of those measures, advocates for rights restoration called on McDonnell to issue an executive order to deal with the problem.
“I believe we need a simpler way for individuals who want to return to their place in society to be given a second chance and to regain their civil rights that were lost through a felony conviction,” Cuccinelli said.
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Virginia is one of only a handful of states that does not have some form of automatic rights restoration for felons after they have completed all of the provisions of their sentences. In order to have their rights restored – which also includes the right to sit on a jury, act as a notary public and run for elected office, but not the right to own a firearm – felons must petition the governor directly.
McDonnell streamlined the process in 2010 by promising decisions on petitions within 60 days, and has restored the rights of more than 3,600 felons – more than any other governor. Estimates place the number of felons who have lost their voting rights in Virginia at more than 350,000.