A Virginia committee announced options Tuesday for streamlining the restoration of former felons’ voting rights, including actions the governor and legislature could take now to advance the process. The possibilities, the committee said, include recruiting ex-felons who have not applied for restoration, partnering with private groups to expedite applications and creating a state agency to speed up the review and approval process. Under the Virginia Constitution, the only way for felons to regain their voting rights is to seek restoration, in writing, from the governor. Attempts to amend the constitution to make the process automatic have proved unsuccessful for more than 30 years. Voting rights and civil rights advocates have called on Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and other governors to restore the rights of some former felons automatically through executive order.
The Rights Restoration Advisory Committee was formed in March by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) after a proposed constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights failed in the General Assembly, despite the support of Cuccinelli and McDonnell.
The committee found that neither the governor nor the General Assembly has the power to automatically restore the voting rights of former felons. But the governor can use his authority to restore rights on an individual basis, the committee said.
The governor, the panel said, “possesses the authority to consider new approaches to the restoration of rights that could include proactive outreach and educational efforts . . . so long as governor’s action to remove political disabilities continues to be made on an individualized basis.”