On April 22nd Governor McAuliffe issued an executive order declaring that all felons, both violent and non-violent, who have completed their sentence and probation shall have their voting rights restored. I am in favor of non-violent felons who have completed their prison sentence and their parole, paid all fines and costs of restitution, and who have given back to society by doing community service having their voting rights restored. But Governor McAuliffe’s plan is outrageous. This means that all felons, including murders, rapists, kidnappers, and child molesters will be able to vote and serve jury duty. It does not even require them to have paid their restitution to the victims. This political move by Governor McAuliffe not only undermines the strength of our justice system but rewrites Virginia’s laws, which state that people convicted of felonies lose their right to vote.
To be clear, there is a process in place for convicted felons to petition to have their voting rights restored. This is done on a case-by-case basis. In recent years thousands of offenders – most of them nonviolent – have had their rights restored this way.
Governor McAuliffe’s restoration of rights applies broadly to all felons, meaning that it does not take into account a number of factors, such as the seriousness of the offense, whether the felon has committed multiple offences, whether the felon repaid the victim, and if the felon committed other crimes since their release.
Legal teams for both Governor Kaine and Governor McDonnell studied a similar order and concluded that any restoration of rights would require a case study. Governor Kaine’s lawyer stated that a blanket restoration “would be a rewrite of the law rather than a contemplated use of the executive clemency powers. And, the notion that the Constitution of the Commonwealth could be rewritten via executive order is troubling.” You can read both legal opinions here and here.
This is an extreme move from the Governor. When you consider this in addition to the Governor’s veto of HB 516, which would simply require parental notification when a teacher assigns readings with sexually explicit material, and his veto of HB 1234, which would allow retired police officers who still meet firearms training requirements to be placed in schools to protect children, I think you can see that Governor McAuliffe is on the extreme liberal side of the political spectrum.