If all goes according to plan, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration projects that over six months, it can restore voting rights to one in 10 eligible people who lost them to nonviolent felony convictions. That bold undertaking, which could benefit 10,000 of an estimated 100,000 nonviolent felons who’ve completed their terms, is not without its challenges, though. Chief among them is locating scores of Virginians who forfeited their rights to vote, a task complicated by a system of spotty electronic state records that go back only to 1995. Because there is no comprehensive database, the state is counting on partner advocacy groups to help route people to them.
The governor Monday announced details of the revamped rights restoration system he first heralded in late May as the closest Virginia can get to an automatic system under current law. “Starting today, those who have served their time, paid all fines, costs, and restitution and met other court-ordered conditions, will be able to regain their voting and civil rights as quickly as possible through a process that is automatic and individualized,” McDonnell said in a statement.
The new system is based on the idea of uniform approval for those who qualify to regain the right to vote, seek and hold public office, serve on a jury or be a notary public. It removes the two-year waiting period and formal application process previously in place for nonviolent felons; violent felons still must wait five years to apply.
The governor indicated that many statutory burglary and breaking-and-entering offenses would be considered nonviolent crimes for the purpose of restoration, though some that involved intent to cause bodily harm would be deemed violent offenses.