Virginians with felony convictions on their criminal records will have an easier path to having their voting rights restored thanks to reforms called for this morning by Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Under McAuliffe's new rules, the time that people convicted of "violent" felonies must wait to apply for rights restoration will shrink from five years to three years. The list of crimes that constitute "violent felonies" in Virginia has historically included drug charges. That will change with these new reforms. All drug distribution and manufacturing crimes will be recategorized as "nonviolent" felonies, which means Virginians with these drug convictions will have no waiting period for applying for restoration. All "nonviolent" felony convictions already qualify Virginians for automatic rights restoration when they appeal directly to the governor, a policy instituted by former governor Bob McDonnell.
Finally, in case there's still any confusion around what crimes are considered "violent" or "nonviolent" felonies, the McAuliffe administration plans to post a list on its website for clarification.
"Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible," McAuliffe said in a statement.
Virginia once had some of the strictest terms for restoring voting rights in the nation. A coalition of grassroots organizations led by the Virginia NAACP state conference, Advancement Project, Virginia New Majority, Virginia Organizing, Holla Back and Restore, S.O.B.E.R. House, and Bridging the Gap in Virginia have worked to make the new reforms possible.
But there is still much further to go. The civil rights organizations are pushing for automatic voting rights restoration for all people who have paid their debts to society immediately after serving their time in prison.
"While we are glad the Governor has responded to community concerns, we remain concerned about Virginia's continued distinction between violent and non-violent offenses in the voting rights restoration process," said Advancement Project Managing Director and General Counsel, Edward A. Hailes. "There are numerous benefits to restoring voting rights for people who have completed their sentences, including the fostering of full community integration and the fulfillment of our core democratic principles. Those benefits apply for everyone, regardless of the basis for their conviction. We encourage Virginia to join the majority of states, which do not make distinctions between different types of offenses, by passing a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights for all."