A Republican state senator who sued Gov. Terry McAuliffe over the governor’s efforts to restore voting rights to felons filed legislation Thursday to automatically grant political rights to certain nonviolent criminals. Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) filed the proposed constitutional amendment one day after he and other Republicans announced that they were taking McAuliffe (D) back to court over his latest attempt at rights restoration. Norment’s move seemed intended to push back against McAuliffe’s claim that Republicans had racist motives for opposing his voting-rights actions. But his plan triggered a fierce backlash from McAuliffe and other Democrats, who said it would close off any avenue for violent felons to vote ever again short of a gubernatorial pardon. GOP legislative leaders have said they objected to McAuliffe’s methods, which they and the state’s Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.
… U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) noted that Norment’s plan calls for completely removing the governor from the rights-restoration process. Since felons would no longer be able to individually petition the governor as they may now, those convicted of violent offenses would have no mechanism for regaining their rights, he said.
“They are permanently disenfranchised without the authority of the governor to restore their rights,” Scott said. “That’s a major step backwards.”
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said he would oppose Norment’s plan, likening the restitution requirement to a poll tax. “It seems to me a constitutional amendment written like that would make it even more onerous than it is today,” Saslaw said. “What they want to do is make it constitutionally impossible for these people to ever vote.”