Governor Creates New Hurdles for Persons Seeking Restoration of Voting Rights

Literacy test equivalent likely to reduce number of applications.

Richmond, VA – The state with the most severe felon disfranchisement law in the nation just made the process of restoring voting rights more difficult.  Under new rules instituted by Governor Bob McDonnell, non-violent felons seeking the restoration of their voting rights must now write a “personal letter addressed to the Governor” analyzing the nature of their crime and the efforts they have made to redeem themselves.

Non-violent felons applying for restoration of rights, who until now have been required only to complete a one-page form, are receiving a letter from the Governor’s office stating that they must also submit a “Details of Offense Letter,” described as:

A personal letter addressed to the Governor explaining the circumstances of your arrest and conviction. When and where did these offenses occur?  How were you involved?  Give a brief description of current employment or a “good faith” effort to obtain employment.  If you have made strides in education or are involved in church activities please let us know as well. Please also include any and all service to the community since being released by the court and the reasons why you believe the restoration of your civil rights is justified.

“The Governor appears to have reinstated the literacy test in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “For persons with a limited education, the Governor’s requirement that they write an essay explaining their past and present actions and the rationale for why their rights should be restored is a nearly insurmountable obstacle.”

“The Governor has promised to process applications more quickly than his predecessors, but the new requirement introduces more subjectivity into the decision-making and will almost certainly slow down the processing time,” added Willis. “Every teacher knows that essay tests are far harder and more time-consuming to grade than fill-in-the-blanks tests, but that is essentially the change the Governor has made.”

Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states in the nation that permanently disfranchise all felons, requiring an act of the Governor, similar to a pardon, for voting rights to be restored.  Efforts to amend Virginia’s Constitution to allow for automatic restoration of voting rights have passed the Senate, but fallen short in the House of Delegates, although the idea is gaining support there.

Governors Warner and Kaine eased the process, restoring voting rights to more felons than any of their predecessors.  Kaine, who restored voting rights to nearly 5,000 individuals during his tenure, considered issuing an executive order to restore voting rights to many or most of the 300,000 disfranchised voters in Virginia, but decided against it just before leaving office.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, Office: 804-644-8022