In January, the GOP-controlled Virginia House of Delegates killed McDonnell’s proposal to amend Virginia’s constitution to automatically restore voting rights for non-violent felons. It also killed a proposal by Del. Betsy Carr (D) to do the same for all felons who have completed their sentences.
Virginia is one of a handful of states that prohibits all citizens convicted of felonies from voting, even after they serve their terms, unless they are granted clemency by the governor. The conservative McDonnell, who is in the final year of his four-year-term in a state that does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms, has earned praise from progressive leaders for using his clemency power to restore voting rights to a record number of Virginians.
Jesse Frierson, executive director of Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration, told ThinkProgress that while McDonnell’s move is a big step toward re-enfranchising hundreds of thousands of Virginians currently prohibited from participating in democracy, many will be left out. Because the move only includes “nonviolent” felons, under the Commonwealth’s broad “violent” classifications, even those convicted of drug distribution will remain disenfranchised.
“If a person repays their debt to society, should not Virginia fully move and be among the ranks of the 46 other states in this great country we call America [and permit that person to vote]?” Frierson asked. “To say ‘nonviolent only’ continues to keep Virginia in that dubious few with such onerous laws.”