Government & Constitution

Should non-violent felons have the right to vote?

Should non-violent felons have the right to vote?

According to a press release by Jess Caldwell, Press Secretary for Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, non-violent felons seeking restoration of rights in Virginia will no longer have to wait two years to be eligable, go through an application process, or await the Governor’s subjectivity regarding their application.

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, in a letter to Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet V. Kelly, lays out 3 criteria that felons must meet in order to restore their right to vote: The felony must be non-violent; the prison sentence must be complete and the felon must be released from probation or parole; and last, the felon must have paid all court costs, fines, restitution, met all conditions, and have no pending charges. The letter, dated May 29, says the provisions will be effective immediately. The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website says the transitions will be enacted July 15, 2013.

Examples of non-violent felony convictions that will be covered under this new procedure are welfare fraud, prescription fraud, bank fraud, driving under the influence (3rd or subsequent offense), unlawful possession of a concealed weapon, credit card theft, and embezzlement. See a more complete list here.

Prior to McDonnell’s announcement, Virginia was one of the few states that required a petition to the Governor to civil rights. The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website says “there are significant logistical challenges involving the transition from an application-based system to an automatic system.”

The treatment of cases will vary depending on which of four categories the felon is put – past, present, future, or miscellaneous.

  • Past felons are those who have completed the previously mentioned provisions but have not yet applied for restoration of rights. They are the hardest to transition because “There is no comprehensive database of people who have been convicted of a felony in the Commonwealth.”
  • Present felons are those whose applications that have already been submitted, and those who have submitted applications that were denied. As their recent addresses are readily available and criminal background checks are allowed, the Secretary of the Commonwealth describes ‘present’ felons as the “simplest to transition.”
  • Future felons are non-violent offenders who are currently incarcerated. They are also simple to transition because there whereabouts are obvious and their new addresses are easily assessable.
  • Miscellaneous felons are not in the State Department of Corrections system, meaning they could have/are currently locked in federal prison or a local jail. Similarly to ‘past’ felons, transitioning ‘misc.’ felons is difficult because “we do not have a comprehensive list of felons who have been incarcerated on the federal or local levels.”

McDonnell clarifies that none of this applies to violent felons, whose application process has not been updated and takes much longer than the new, automatic process for their non-violent counterparts.

“As governor, one of my public safety priorities has been prisoner and juvenile offender re-entry,” said McDonnell, who served as Attorney General where nearly 88% of his proposed legislature became law, and has been fighting for civil right restoration for years. “As a father and former prosecutor, I believe that the commission of a crime must have a tough and just consequence… I also believe that once an offender has paid his debt to society, he deserves a second chance…”

In May of 2010, McDonnell imposed upon himself a 60 day decision deadline for restoration of rights applications, when decisions made before his time in office often took upwards of a year. He has restored the rights of 4,843 felons- more than any administration before him. “We have the fastest and fairest process in the history of the Commonwealth.”

On May 11, 2010, he also created the Prisoner and Juvenile Offender Re-entry Council, whose coordinator was tasked with “develop[ing] a long-term strategic plan for achieving the goal of reducing offender recidivism for those released from incarceration.”

In order to keep up with the changes, the Restoration of Rights staff will expand by 4 new employees, whom will be paid for by the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s budget.

Caroline Mahony is an editorial intern with Human Events.

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