Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is on pace to achieve his campaign-trail pledge to restore the right to vote to more felons than any governor in Virginia history. Since announcing a streamlined, more efficient program in May 2010, McDonnell (R) has restored the rights of more than 3,800 felons and could clear hundreds more ahead of the November election. The issue is personal for McDonnell, a former prosecutor, and many are highlighting his record as progress on the issue. But others say that with an estimated 350,000 Virginians unable to vote because of a felony conviction, McDonnell could do more to re-enfranchise those who have paid their debt to society.
“Governor McDonnell should be commended for the folks he has allowed to integrate back into the electoral process in Virginia,” said Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan public policy group focused on issues of democracy and justice. “We believe that inclusion is going to reap great benefits in terms of public safety and more robust democracy. But Virginia can and should go further.”
Virginia is one of four states where the pow er to restore voting rights rests solely with the governor. In Virginia, the restoration of rights also includes the right to run for and hold public office, to serve on juries and to function as a notary public. Applicants convicted of a nonviolent offense must wait two years to apply, and applicants convicted of a violent offense, crime against a minor or an election-law offense must wait five years.