overnor McAuliffe’s recent restora
tion of political rights to felons
who have completed their sentence
is the right thing to do, if we believe in
the redemptive value of our criminal
justice system. I applaud the governor for
restoring those political rights to some
206,000 felons in Virginia, many of whom
were released from prison years ago.
While each of the affected persons
could apply individually for restoration
of political rights on a case-by-case basis,
the process is unnecessarily laborious and costly – both for the
individual and the state. So the governor rightly said, let’s do this
on a class-wide basis by restoring the political rights to all of those
that have completed their sentence.
This action is not unprecedented as Governor McDonnell did
the same thing for a class of nonviolent felons, although a much
lower number of people were benefitted.
Following this action, Governor McAuliffe saw that he had the
exclusive executive authority under the Constitution of Virginia to
“remove the political disabilities consequent upon conviction.” It
does not say he has to do it on an application-by-application basis;
he can do it on a class-wide basis, as did Governor McDonnell.
The action does not reduce any sentence, much less pardon
any conviction. They must have “completed their sentences” of
incarceration, supervised release, probation and parole. And they
will still have to pay any fine, restitution or costs imposed by
the courts. By restoring political rights on a class basis to those
felons who have completed their sentences, it makes the process of
restoring voting rights more efficient and less costly.
Virginia has a long and troubled history regarding voting
rights, including the poll tax and literacy tests that were struck
down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s. Since 2010, we
By Senator John S. Edwards, 21st Senate District of Virginia
have sadly added new voter suppression devices such as the photo
ID card requirement to voting.
The Republican Party has filed suit over this issue claiming
the restoration must be on a case by case basis. But, the Virginia
constitution does not require restoration only on an individual by
The chief author of the 1971 Constitution of Virginia, A.E.
Dick Howard, professor of law at UVA, has said the governor has
“ample authority” to do so. As a lawyer myself, I believe the basic
rules of constitutional and statutory interpretation clearly support
Professor Howard’s position.
The cause of justice is best served when people who have served
their time can be brought back into the community to participate in
the economic and political life, including having the fundamental
right to vote. That helps them become part of the society again and
benefits society by their voice in our government.
Most states automatically allow felons to vote upon release
from incarceration, probation and parole. Virginia is one of only
12 states that does not automatically allow felons to vote upon
completing their sentences. Absent legislation or a constitutional
amendment, only the Governor can restore this right in Virginia.
Also, there is the sad fact that African-Americans have been
disproportionately impacted by the previous process for restoring
voting rights. This harkens back to the 1902 Virginia Constitution
expressly designed to restrict the voting rights of African-
By restoring the right to vote on a class basis of those who have
completed their sentence, Governor McAuliffe is moving Virginia
Governor McAuliffe’s action does not restore the right of
felons to have legal access to firearms. If they want that right, then
they have to go to court. Federal law further prohibits convicted
felons from possessing guns.
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Seeking New Seats
Keep an eye on these Virginia
legislators in the 2016 election!
Senator Tom Garrett
seeking 5th Congressional District
Delegate Monty Mason
seeking 1st Virginia Senate District
Senator Donald McEachin
seeking 4th Congressional District
Delegate Scott Taylor
seeking 2nd Congressional District
Coming in the Fall issue:
Preview of Special Elections