Democratic Chairman’s Rhetoric Supports Restoration of Voting Rights, but Actions Speak Louder than Words
Restoration of voting rights for former prisoners is a key issue for many members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), because ex-felons are disproportionately minorities and according to conventional wisdom, minorities are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. It would be natural, therefore, for the DNC’s chairman to support restoration of voting rights.
“I think folks who serve their time should have their rights restored, especially those who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies,” said DNC chairman and former Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine.
Despite Kaine’s apparent support for re-enfranchisement, however, Virginia is one of only two states that refuse to restore the voting rights of ex-felons upon the completion of their sentences without approval from the governor. That restriction applies to all felons, not just those convicted of violent offenses.
When Kaine’s term as governor was ending in January 2010, he was asked by WTOP political reporter Mark Plotkin why he did not sign an executive order restoring the voting rights of former prisoners he thought were deserving.
“Our analysis of Virginia’s law is that I can’t just do a blanket restoration – I have to restore people by name,” Kaine explained, describing the one-page form that ex-felons use to request restoration of their voting rights as being “as near an automatic process as can be.”
“You fill it out, you ask for your rights back. You demonstrate that you’ve served your time and that you’ve been out and you haven’t committed any problems for a couple of years,” said Kaine. “If your felony was a nonviolent felony, we restored every right of everybody who applies. If it’s a violent felony, we dig into it a little more.”
While it’s true that Kaine restored the voting rights of thousands of ex-felons, including those convicted of murder, rape and other violent crimes, he also declined to restore the rights of some nonviolent felons if they had received an infraction as minor as a speeding ticket since completing their sentence.
Frank Anderson’s request to have his voting rights restored was denied on December 16, 2009 for that very reason. Although he was convicted of burglary years earlier and had not reoffended, he was informed that to have his rights restored he must have no legal violations for three to five years, and that “moving violations, such as speeding” disqualified him. Thus, even nonviolent offenders who had speeding tickets could not regain their voting rights under Kaine’s tenure as governor.
As for a blanket executive order to restore the voting rights of former prisoners, Kaine’s administration said it feared a court would overturn it or a subsequent executive order by another governor would do likewise. Nearly 300,000 Virginians are disenfranchised due to felony convictions.
Sources: WTOP, www.hamptonroads.com, www.notlarrysabato.typepad.com
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