ACLU Asks Attorney General to Encourage Governor to Issue Executive Order Restoring Voting Rights of Virginians with Felony Convictions
March 13, 2013
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Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today sent a letter to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli inviting him to review its legal analysis of the rights restoration law and join the group in encouraging Governor Bob McDonnell to issue an executive order restoring the voting rights of Virginians with felony convictions.
“We were pleased yesterday to hear that Attorney General Cuccinelli created an advisory committee to research legal alternatives that will allow felons to seek restoration of their voting rights,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga. “We are grateful for his leadership in advocating for the automatic restoration of rights for nonviolent offenders.”
“As the AG has pointed out, the situation only worsens as more and more individuals lose their right to vote because of ‘felony creep,’ in which low level offenses are re-classified as felonies,” added Gastañaga. “We encourage him to join us in urging the Governor to issue an executive order restoring voting rights before his term ends.”
The civil liberties group recently praised the Governor and the Attorney General for showing support for legislation that would automatically restore civil rights for nonviolent offenders, and becoming advocates for rights restoration reform. It also sent a letter on January 21 to the Governor urging him to issue an executive order.
According to the Sentencing Project, over 450,000 individuals – about 7.3% of the population – are barred from exercising their right to vote in Virginia due to a felony conviction. The vast majority of disenfranchised persons in Virginia and the U.S. are no longer incarcerated and are tax-paying citizens who are involved in their communities. At least two-thirds have fully completed their sentences, including probation and parole. Moreover, as the number and kinds of offenses that are felonies in Virginia have proliferated, the link between offense and disenfranchisement has become less and less rational and more attenuated.
Under the Virginia Constitution, the governor, not the General Assembly, has control over the process for restoring voting rights of felons. Only the General Assembly has the power to put a Constitutional amendment to change this before the people for a vote. A constitutional amendment requires approval by two separate legislative sessions (with a House of Delegates election in between) before it can be put to a referendum by Virginia voters. This year, the Virginia General Assembly again failed to pass any measures that would reform Virginia’s antiquated disenfranchisement law.
The ACLU of Virginia, along with scores of ministers, faith-based groups, the NAACP and numerous other state and local organizations have pressed for reform of Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement law for years. In most states, the right to vote is automatically restored once felons, especially non-violent felons, have completed the terms of their sentences. All felons in Virginia are banned from voting (and running for office) for life unless the governor restores their rights. No state is considered worse than Virginia, and only three others – Kentucky, Iowa and Florida – have laws that are as punitive.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Attorney General can be found online at: https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/20130313LtrtoAGRightsRestoration.pdf
A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Governor, including a draft executive order and memo regarding legal and practical issues, can be found online at: https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/2013-01-21RightsRestorationLettertoGovernor.pdf.
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