Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Wednesday that he will automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences on an individual basis by doing away with the “subjective” application process. McDonnell streamlined the process of rights restoration when he took office in 2010, and has restored the rights of more than 4,800 felons – the most of any governor. In January he threw his support behind a measure to put a constitutional amendment to the voters that would have automatically restored voting rights to nonviolent felons, which failed in the House of Delegates. “We all are human beings,” said McDonnell who was flanked by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Benjamin Jealous, the president of the national NAACP at the Cedar St. Baptist Church of God in Richmond. “Cloaked in our human frailty there are mistakes that are made. But once those dues are fully paid, there is going to be a clear avenue to reintegrate – with your full dignity – fully back into society.” McDonnell’s policy change comes a day after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a report that said the governor could not offer a blanket automatic restoration of rights, but could broaden rights restoration on an individual basis.
The new rules for rights restoration do away with the application process and two-year waiting period for nonviolent felons. As long as they have served their jail and prison terms; paid all fines, restitution and court fees; and do not have any pending felony charges McDonnell, through the Secretary of the Commonwealth will automatically restore the rights of each individual felon.
Individuals convicted of a violent felony will be required to apply to the governor for restoration of their rights after a five year waiting period.
McDonnell gave a rough estimate of 100,000 Virginians who will regain their rights – which includes the right to run for elected office, sit on jury and serve as a notary public. Virginia is one of only two states that does not have any form of automatic rights restoration, and more than 350,000 Virginians have lost their voting rights due to felony convictions.