October 7, 2012

The Oct. 2 editorial “Locked out of voting” was correct in asserting that, although Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is on track to restore the voting rights of more Virginians with past felony convictions than any of his predecessors, the commonwealth needs an automatic restoration process to effectively deal with the more than 350,000 Virginia residents who remain disenfranchised. But the piece overlooked one important fact.

Mr. McDonnell does not need to wait for the General Assembly to change this archaic system. The Virginia constitution vests the governor with the power to remove “political disabilities” for people with felony convictions but leaves him discretion in determining how to administer this authority. The governor has chosen to grant clemency through an individualized application process rather than issuing an executive order establishing an automatic process to restore the voting rights of all Virginia citizens who have paid their debts to society.

Mr. McDonnell’s approval of approximately 90 percent of applications received from people who have completed sentences for nonviolent offenses demonstrates overwhelmingly that the individual application process is unnecessary. Rather than requiring each disenfranchised Virginian to appeal individually for restoration of voting rights, Mr. McDonnell should continue to lead on this issue by setting aside the onerous application process and exercising his full authority to make sure all Virginians who want to take part in the democratic process can do so.

Judith Browne Dianis and Edgardo Cortés, Washington

Judith Browne Dianis is co-director of the Advancement Project. Edgardo Cortés is director of its Virginia Voting Rights Restoration Campaign.