Michael Edwards, a community leader in southern Virginia, spent eight years in prison for a marijuana-trafficking conviction in the 1970s. But he said he feels like he was punished for more than 30 years — the time it took for him to regain his voting rights in Virginia. That won’t happen to any other ex-felons in Virginia if a group of civil rights organizations are successful in their campaign to push Gov. Robert McDonnell to provide an easier path to voting for ex-felons who have served their time. “These people live and work and pay taxes but don’t have a voice on this issue,” said Edgardo Cortes of the Advancement Project, a voting rights group based in Washington, D.C., during a national telephone press conference Wednesday. “The governor has shown leadership on this issue but now is the time for him to take additional action.”
In Virginia and three other states, a felony conviction means the automatic loss of many civil rights — chief among them being the right to vote — even after the criminal serves their time in prison. But the civil rights groups are pushing McDonnell to bypass the state legislature and automatically restore voting rights for ex-felons by executive order.
While the civil rights groups and Gov. McDonnell agree ex-felons should have their voting rights restored automatically after paying their debt to society, the sticking point is how to achieve it. McDonnell, a Republican, wants the state legislature to act but Cortes says McDonnell has the power to act on his own, which he has been reluctant to do.