Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today expressed disappointment after a House of Delegates Privileges and Elections subcommittee failed to advance legislation that would reform Virginia’s law barring for life felons right to vote.
“For too long, Virginia has been out of step with the rest of the country by continuing to disenfranchise all felons for life,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga. “We are poised this year to make great strides forward, but were very disappointed this morning when the House subcommittee refused to take steps to reform this antiquated law.”
“While it is commendable that Gov. Bob McDonnell has restored rights to over 4,000 thousand people-- more than his predecessors-- it is still just a drop in the bucket,” added Gastañaga. “It is preposterous to think he or any future Governor should be responsible for restoring civil rights to the more than 450,000 disenfranchised voters on a case by case basis. Virginia needs a more streamlined process and automatic restoration of rights, which even if just applicable to nonviolent offenders, would be a big step in the right direction. We shouldn’t refuse to take a step forward because it doesn’t address every possible concern.”
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly joined Governor Bob McDonnell in vocalizing their support for rights restoration reform. Cuccinelli this morning testified before the House subcommittee in favor of legislation amending the state constitution to automatically restore civil rights for nonviolent felons.
“We applaud the Attorney General and Governor McDonnell for their leadership and support on this issue,” said Gastañaga. “It’s long past time for Virginia to provide offenders the opportunity to participate again in our democracy. We must not lose the chance to put this question before the voters in 2014. The House leadership has the opportunity to move this issue ahead by allowing the full Privileges and Election committee to reconsider this issue when it meets on Friday, when it can overturn the subcommittee decision and recommend the bill for a House vote. And, the Senate can send legislation to the House with a strong bi-partisan vote that could provide the impetus for the House to do the right thing, too. It’s simply not fair or good public policy to make the hundreds of thousands of people who have paid their dues wait to 2016 before the people can even vote on the issue of restoration of rights.”
Under the Virginia Constitution, the governor, not the General Assembly, has control over the process for restoring voting rights of felons. Only the General Assembly has the power to put a Constitutional amendment to change this before the people for a vote. A constitutional amendment requires approval by two separate legislative sessions (with a House of Delegates election in between) before it can be put to a referendum by Virginia voters. If the legislature approves the change this year (2013) and in 2014, the amendment can be voted on in November 2014. If the legislature doesn’t act this year, the earliest the amendment could be put to a vote would be November 2016.
ACLU of Virginia Contact: Claire G. Gastañaga, Executive Director, 804-644-8022