Senate votes to restore felon voting rights

The Virginia Senate voted Monday to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons, advancing a key policy priority of both Democrats and Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

The Senate voted 30 to 10 to pass a resolution to amend the state constitution to allow ex-felons who have paid their debts to society to vote. Currently, they must appeal to the governor to have that right restored.

The resolution would still have to clear the House, which earlier this session killed nine bills to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons.

Even if it clears the full House, the measure would face more hurdles because the measure calls for amending the state constitution. The measure would have to clear the General Assembly a second time in a subsequent session and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

The resolution was one of several voting-related bills taken up Monday by the General Assembly, which fought bitterly over voter ID measures last year.

One week after Republicans sprang a surprise Senate redistricting plan in that chamber, the Senate approved two measures — a bill and a proposed constitutional amendment, both calling for the establishment of a state redistricting commission. Both measures are intended to make the process of redrawing congressional and General Assembly district lines less political.

The Senate also voted to make it easier for presidential candidates to get on the state ballot, lowering a hurdle that kept some Republicans out of the GOP primary last year. The number of signatures required to get on the Virginia ballot would be cut from 10,000 to 5,000. The number of signatures that would have to come from each of the state’s 11 Congressional districts would shrink from 400 to 200.

At the same time, the Senate voted to impose new restrictions on voter-registration groups and to shrink the hours that in-person absentee voting is available in springtime primary elections.

Groups or individuals conducting voter registration drives would have to register with state or local election boards, receive training from election officials and provide a sworn affidavit that they will abide by state voter registration laws and rules.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.

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