Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli – the Republican nominee for governor – stood before a Senate subcommittee, urging members to “err on the side of inclusion” when it comes to automatically restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons who’ve completed their sentence. The bill survived the subcommittee on a tie vote, a small victory for both Cuccinelli and the current occupant of the governor’s mansion, Bob McDonnell, who championed the cause during this month’s State of the Commonwealth address. Nevertheless, the measure’s prospects remain slight. House members made quick work of the proposals submitted to that chamber, killing them early Monday morning.
The surviving Senate plan, sponsored by Portsmouth Democrat Louise Lucas, was amended to allow automatic restoration to nonviolent felons, but it gave the General Assembly latitude to carve exceptions for some crimes like voter fraud. As a proposed constitutional amendment, it must win approval this year and next, then be approved by voters.
Virginia remains one of only four states to require an offender to petition for restoration of civil rights after completing a sentence.
To his credit, McDonnell streamlined the process in his first year and has approved the applications of roughly 90 percent of nonviolent offenders. That was a prelude to McDonnell’s push in his State of the Commonwealth speech Jan. 9. Five days later, House Republicans rejected the proposal.