Under the Virginia Constitution, the only way for felons to regain their voting rights is to seek restoration, in writing, from the governor. Attempts to amend the constitution to make the process automatic have proved unsuccessful for more than 30 years. Voting rights and civil rights advocates have called on
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and other governors to restore the rights of some former felons automatically through executive order.
The Rights Restoration Advisory Committee was formed in March by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R)
after a proposed constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights failed in the General Assembly, despite the support of Cuccinelli and McDonnell.
The committee found that neither the governor nor the General Assembly has the power to automatically restore the voting rights of former felons. But the governor can use his authority to restore rights on an individual basis, the committee said.
The governor, the panel said, “possesses the authority to consider new approaches to the restoration of rights that could include proactive outreach and educational efforts . . . so long as governor’s action to remove political disabilities continues to be made on an individualized basis.”
The committee report also offered suggestions on ways the state could restore the rights of more people within the existing law, including having a state agency reach out to eligible ex-felons who haven’t applied and working with faith-based and community groups to improve the restoration process. The General Assembly could also fund additional efforts, including the creation of a state agency to review applications.
The report does not endorse any of the options presented.
Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor this year, said he favors partnerships with private groups over creating a state agency. “It's an option, but we don’t need it,” Cuccinelli said of the possibility of a new agency.
Responding to the report on Tuesday, the Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights group, renewed its push for an executive order from McDonnell.
“It is wrong to continue Virginia’s policy of punishing and keeping citizens politically isolated for years after paying their debt and reentering society,” project co-director Judith Browne Dianis said in a statement.
McDonnell was expected to make policy announcements Wednesday in response to the report.
Cuccinelli said Tuesday that he doesn’t hold out much hope for passage of a constitutional amendment in the General Assembly. “ I don’t realistically think it has good prospects in the future,” he said, adding that he would again support a constitutional amendment, as he did this year.