Some of the advocates who cheered Gov. Bob McDonnell’s announcement in May that he would automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons are now concerned that the initiative might not have as big an impact as they thought — at least not right away. Others say they’re just happy that progress is being made. Administration officials are expected to announce details of the program today, the day it takes effect. McDonnell originally said that about 100,000 disenfranchised felons might be added to the voter rolls, but advocates for civil rights and inmates are bracing for the likelihood that only a fraction of that pool will have their rights restored in time for the November election. “People are concerned the reality is not going to match the rhetoric,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.
In Virginia, only the governor can restore felons’ rights to vote, serve on a jury and hold elective office. McDonnell already has streamlined the process and has restored the rights of more than 5,000 felons, more than any previous administration.
The governor announced in May that he would drop a requirement that nonviolent felons apply to have their rights restored and replace it with an automatic process — but one that still would employ individual consideration, which McDonnell says he believes the Virginia Constitution requires. He also eliminated a two-year waiting period. Violent felons still will have to wait five years and apply to regain their civil rights.
According to the Sentencing Project, about 350,000 Virginians remained disenfranchised in 2010.