April 18, 2014
In Virginia, only the governor can restore a felon's right vote and it used to take half a decade before they could apply for that right.
That all changed as Governor Terry McAuliffe announced Friday that he is cutting the waiting period for violent felons to apply for reinstatement of rights from five years down to three.
Attorney General Mark Herring (D) spoke on the issue while visiting the UVa Law School on Friday. He says that it's important to protect people's rights, not to take them away.
“If they are non-violent felons, they have paid their debt to society and we expect them to get their wheels back on the right track,” says Herring. “They too should have a say in through voting in their community.”
However, this change does raise a few concerns for lawmakers.
“We are giving them the right to sit on a jury, which is part of their civil rights, that much sooner,” says Delegate Rob Bell (R) of the 58th district. “I think that it's not unreasonable to say that if you've committed such a violent offense that it makes since to wait five years to say okay, you've got your life together now you can have your rights restored.”
Governor McAuliffe also changed the way drug crimes are classified, as they will no longer be an automatic violent felony. Now non-violent drug offenders will be able to apply to have their rights restored as soon as they finish their sentence.
The director of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville says this is a step in the right direction.
“350,000 people are disenfranchised in Virginia as a result of these provisions,” says Mary Bauer. “One in five African-American adults is disenfranchised because of the drug provisions, so this is going to go a long way in making that better.”
Governor McAuliffe has already restored the rights of more than 800 Virginians since the beginning of his term.