Governor McDonnell announced today that the civil rights of 6,874 Virginians have been restored during the McDonnell administration, another new all-time high for a Virginia gubernatorial administration. Of those, 1,577 were granted since the Governor announced Virginia's new automatic, individualized system of rights restoration for non-violent felons on July 15, 2013. Governor McDonnell granted 1,114 in 2010,1,293 in 2011, and 1,879 rights in 2012.
While this number is representative of progress, the governor announced new resources for the restoration of rights process, noting, "I strongly believe in second chances and redemption. It is a fundamental part of the American way. Our efforts on prisoner re-entry and the restoration of rights are working. When an individual has done their time, and paid their fines, costs, and other obligations, they deserve the opportunity to rejoin our democracy in full. That is why we moved 90 days ago to put in place Virginia's first-ever automatic, individualized, restoration of rights process. I want every individual who is qualified to participate in this process, and gain back one of their most sacred rights: the right to vote. I am pleased that we have made progress, and continue to restore more rights than any Virginia gubernatorial administration. But we can do better still. In the past few months we've added staff and resources to handle an increase in demand for rights restoration. We will work tirelessly during the next three months to restore more people fully back to citizenship, and I remain fully supportive of passage of a constitutional amendment to provide for the automatic restoration of rights for non-violent felons. Additionally, we will be putting new funding into this process in the next biennial budget that we will put forward in December. We will continue to take every step possible to help more Virginians get back one of their most treasured rights: the right to have an equal voice in our democracy through the ballot box."
"We are pleased with the number of rights that were granted. However, there is more work to be done," stated Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly. "Ninety days into the new system, with new procedures and new staff, we have a better idea of where to focus our resources so that non-violent felons who have paid their obligations and completed their time can have their civil rights restored. We thank the numerous stakeholder groups who helped us arrive at good procedures, and the feedback we have received from people utilizing the new process."
"We are glad that Governor McDonnell's administration has hired more staff and worked hard to restore the civil rights of Virginians at a faster pace than ever before," said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. "We also commend the tremendous efforts of our community-based partners - including Holla Back & Restore Project, S.O.B.E.R. House, Bridging the Gap in Virginia, and Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged, among many others - who have been reaching out to people all across Virginia, helping them regain their voting rights in time for next month's election. While the outreach work of the past three months is paying off, we hope the administration will seek ways to further streamline the process to quickly approve more of the individuals who are still waiting to have their rights restored. The governor has shown great commitment to moving this issue forward, and we are confident that he will build on his progress so that even more citizens can participate in our democracy."
The restoration of rights division now employs six staffers, four of whom were just hired in July to implement the new system. The Secretary of the Commonwealth's office has worked diligently with the Clerks of Court, the Supreme Court, the State Police, the State Board of Elections, the Department of Corrections and many other stakeholder groups to streamline and automate the system.
As the administration has studied this issue and moved forward under the governor's new automatic, individualized system, it has become evident that the category of non-violent felons released in past years, for which the Commonwealth does not keep full records, represents the largest number of people who would benefit from the new automatic, individualized system. These individuals are also the hardest to identify and locate. Therefore, in order to expedite the process of bringing these individuals back onto the voter rolls, the governor has made the decision to seek additional funding for this process in his upcoming biennial budget.