Friday, May 21, 2010

A step forward on voting rights

Virginia is one of two states (Kentucky is the other) that permanently disenfranchises all felons by leaving the restoration process to the discretion of the governor. This week, Governor Bob McDonnell announced new, more streamlined steps for convicted felons to apply for restoration of their voting rights. Among the changes - the waiting period for nonviolent offenders has been reduced from three years to two and the processing time reduced to 60 days. While this announcement does not guarantee that the Commonwealth has eliminated the last vestiges of Jim Crow, it is clearly a step in a more enlightened direction.
CCC had been critical of then governor-elect McDonnell writing in December, "There ain't a snowball's chance in Hell the next governor will give a tinker's damn about this issue...." The governor, while still dancing on his right foot, has shown some flexibility on issues, especially when moderates and progressives get in his face and take issues to the people. Governor McDonnell is to be commended for opening a new discussion on voting rights.
That conversation now needs to move to the General Assembly. "It's a significant first step," Delegate Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) said. "It falls short, quite frankly, of the bill we want to see passed, but it's a step." Ware and others support amending the Virginia Constitution to make restoration of voting rights automatic following an administrative process.
With conservative Republicans in control of the House of Delegates, passage will have to navigate more potholes than I do on our gravel road. Perhaps Governor McDonnell is counting on that - he can look moderate and reasonable while relying on allies to axe the more significant reforms. It is up to we the people to keep up the pressure on legislators. Write your delegate and senator. Join with the ACLU of Virginia, The Sentencing Project, and The Virginia Interfaith Center to spread the word. Progress occurs when people stand up and speak out.

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