Governor Kaine Makes an Effort to Restore Voting Rights to Non-Violent Felons

By: Bianca Spinosa Email
By: Bianca Spinosa Email

October 5, 2008

Monday is the last day you can register to vote in Virginia, and Governor Kaine is taking special steps to enfranchise voters in Commonwealth.

Analysts say former inmates are the largest block of unregistered voters over age 18 in Virginia. They can have their civil rights restored by the Governor, and the number of applications reaching the Governor's desk is soaring However, critics say Governor Kaine isn't reviewing those applications carefully enough.

Virginia is one of two states where felons lose their civil rights. Non-violent offenders must wait three years before they can send an application to the Governor asking for those rights back, including the right to vote.

Governor Kaine has added staff to process these applications before Monday's voter registration deadline--a process critics say is too easy.

"If someone has committed a felony crime and they say 'gosh, I want to participate in the voting process, I want to sit on a jury, I want to run for office, I want to do one of those three things' we really need to have a higher bar than to say that they want it back," said Delegate Rob Bell, (R) 58th District.

Under a process set up by former Governor Mark Warner, felons convicted of non-violent crimes can apply to have their voting rights restored, and earlier this year, Kaine promised he would speed up a review of those applications in time for the registration deadline.

Delegate Bell says Kaine is not reviewing each case individually, which he thinks is a problem.

"With Warner and Kaine, what used to be a thirteen-page application is down to a couple of lines," remarked Bell. "And it says, 'what were you charged with when were you charged? Do you want your rights back?' With those things satisfied they check your criminal record, and we're seeing a much quicker application process and not much review of the felons when they're trying to get their votes back."

The Associated Press reports that so far Kaine has restored the voting rights of more than 2600 non-violent felons. Analysts point out Democrat Presidential candidate Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would allow all ex-felons to vote. Some legislators say the issue isn't restoring rights to felons, it's how leaders go about doing it.

"The question of course is if they're doing it with careful review or if it's a much quicker process of 'OK here you go' and that's what I think is causing some concern," said Del. Bell.

CBS19 tried to reach the Governor's office for comment but they were unavailable Sunday. However, Kaine has told media in the past that his decision to quickly process the applications this year has nothing to do with the presidential election.

You can find a link to the violent and non-violent felon civil rights application forms at the Commonwealth's site.

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