A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee killed a series of bills that would have amended the constitution to automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons once they had served their time. The Senate is expected to do the same today.
GOP-controlled legislatures killing measures which, by design or as a side effect, give more Democrats the vote is nothing new. Lawmakers pointed out that felons did have a procedure to restore the franchise by petitioning the governor. The issue, for the opponents of automatic re-enfranchisement, is the integrity of elections–someone convicted of a felony is of questionable judgment therefore they should be subject to review.
ThinkProgress writes, “Far from just simple procedural act, applying for clemency is no guarantee that whoever is governor will grant the clemency request.”
Strictly speaking that’s true, but Governor Bob McDonnell has approved the vast majority of these petitions since being elected and is a firm supporter of reintegration. He supported the bills, along with Attorney General and lone 2013 GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, and was disappointed at the outcome:
“Once individuals have served their time, and paid their fines, restitution, and other costs, they should have the opportunity to rejoin society as fully contributing members. As a nation that embraces second chances and believes in redemption, we want more productive citizens and fewer people returning to prison. Automatic restoration of constitutional rights will help reintegrate individuals back into society and prevent future crimes, which means fewer victims and a safer Virginia.”
The easy interpretation of House’s motive for scuttling the bill is pure self-interest. As with many Voter ID laws, the GOP claims to be looking out for the integrity of elections while making voting more difficult for reliably Democratic constituencies.
Yet with the number of felons McDonnell has pardoned, it’s hard to claim that there’s a failure in the current approach to reintegrating ex-felons, and certainly not a big enough one to justify a constitutional amendment. So long as the governor’s hand doesn’t get tired.