Virginia’s conservative Republican governor is on pace to restore voting rights to more convicted felons than any governor in the state’s recent history, including his two Democratic predecessors. Gov. Bob McDonnell, once the state’s Attorney General, has restored voting rights to 2,555 convicted felons — or 87 percent of those who have applied — since he took over as governor two years ago. If that pace holds for the rest of his term, he will surpass former governors Timothy Kaine and Mark R. Warner in the number of felons given back their right to vote. Over their four years in office, Kaine restored voting rights to 4,402 felons, and Warner restored the rights to 3,486 felons.
Shortly after his election, McDonnell cut the time frame in which people can apply for voting rights to two years after serving their sentences — down from the previous three years. And the applications are acted upon within 60 days, rather than the previous schedule of six months to a year.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Polarek, who oversees McDonnell’s rights restoration program, said Tuesday that restoring such rights is “a personal issue” for McDonnell. Many years ago, a client came to McDonnell, then a private attorney in Virginia Beach, asking for help with his voting rights restoration petition. But after 18 months, the answer from then-governor Jim Gilmore was no.
“No one can accuse Gov. McDonnell of being soft on crime,” Polarek said. “He was a law and order attorney general, he was a prosecutor… But there’s a flip side to that.”