Richmond, VA – Governor Robert McDonnell today announced new procedures for restoring felons’ voting rights that could increase the number of restorations in Virginia.
According to the Governor’s news release the waiting period for non-violent offenders to have their rights restored will be reduced from three to two years, and all applications for restoration will be processed within 60 days of the necessary information having been gathered from the applicant, the courts and other agencies.  The waiting period for re-applying for restoration of rights after being rejected has also been reduced, from two years to one.
“These changes are commendable, but it’s the results that matter in the end,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “The Governor will need to both implement these technical changes and devote more resources to the voter restoration process in order to increase the numbers.”
“We feel like this is just the beginning of a real conversation with the Governor about reforming the voter restoration process in Virginia,” added Willis.  “Even with these changes, Virginia will still rank last or next to last in the nation in restoration of voting rights, and there will still be more than 300,000 disenfranchised felons here.”
Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states that permanently disfranchise all felons, leaving the restoration process up to the Governor.  Advocates for reform continue to focus most of their energies on amending Virginia’s Constitution to allow for restoration through an administrative process.
“Today’s message from the Governor about the importance of restoring voting rights is a positive one, not just for felons who have lost their voting rights, but for legislators who will be considering amendments to the Virginia Constitution this January,” said Willis.
The announcement seems to be a turnabout for the new administration on restoration of voting rights.  Shortly after taking office, the Governor’s staff began sending letters to non-violent voter restoration applicants indicating that, in addition to filling out the regular form, they would be required to write a letter to the Governor describing their efforts to rehabilitate themselves-- including education, employment, community service, church activities -- and explaining why they deserved to have their rights restored.
Amid criticism from voting rights advocates in Virginia and across the nation, the Governor’s office halted the letter-writing requirement and announced that it would wait to make permanent changes to the process.  Groups such as the ACLU, the NAACP, the Virginia Interfaith Center, the Virginia League of Women Voters, and the Virginia Organizing Project met with the Governor’s staff to recommend reforms to the process.
The Governor’s press release and new forms for restoration of voting rights are available at http://www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/JudicialSystem/Clemency/restoration.cfm.

Contact: Kent Willis, 804-644-8022

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