Here’s the good news about civil rights for former felons in Virginia: True to his word, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is restoring voting privileges to ex-inmates faster than his predecessors did. Now the bad news: With the exception of Florida, Virginia has the nation’s worst record when it comes to disenfranchising its citizens. In this case, unfortunately, the bad news outweighs the good. Mr. McDonnell, a Republican former prosecutor and attorney general, is well aware that granting voting rights to more ex-offenders who have completed their sentences is an important step toward rebuilding their lives as responsible citizens. That’s why he made it a campaign promise and a priority of his administration, along with expanding job training, counseling and other important programs for former convicts.
To date, the governor has granted more than 3,800 petitions from ex-felons seeking the return of their voting rights. That puts him on track, in his remaining 15 months in office, to exceed any former Virginia governor. But the bottom line is that 352,000 people — almost 6 percent of Virginia’s voting-age population — were listed as disenfranchised in 2010, the year Mr. McDonnell came into office. By the time he leaves office, in early 2014, that number will probably have grown by at least 20,000. And his policies will barely have dented that record.