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Voting rights restored for non-violent felons in Virginia


Updated 5/31/2013, 7:45pm

While only seven months out from the 2012 presidential election, Republicans are already propelling a state-by-state strategy to curb the voting rights of minority citizens ahead of the upcoming general election.

The prevailing disenfranchisement tactics include the elimination of same-day voter registration and the institution of prohibitive voter-ID laws. One of the more devious schemes is the denial of voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time and paid their debt to society. Currently, the states of Iowa, Kentucky and Florida all completely strip former felons of their voting rights. But there is good news: Virginia—where one in five black men cannot vote—is now removed from that list.

On Wednesday, Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell exercised his executive power and pledged to reinstate voting rights to thousands of former non-violent felons currently disenfranchised. This comes after the task force commissioned by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli reported that neither the governor nor the general assembly has the blanket power to restore former felons’ constitutional right to vote.

McDonnell defended his move on msnbc Tuesday morning. ”We are a nation for second chances. We believe in redemption and restoration,” he said.

This recent achievement for voting rights advocates was the result of a large bipartisan effort by civil rights groups and evangelicals. Echoing McDonnell’s sentiment, NAACP President Ben Jealous attributed their unlikely partnership to faith.

“Both of us who are people of faith believe in the right to redemption and that’s where we connected,” Jealous said on All In Thursday night.

But the long slog for universal suffrage isn’t over: According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 10 states have prohibitive laws stripping—or seriously depressing—former felons their right to vote.

Check out the All In with Chris Hayes segment on voter disenfranchisement.

Clarification: Attorney General Cuccinelli’s committee found that the Virginia constitution cannot grant the governor blanket power to restore the voting rights of former nonviolent felons. The committee did find that the governor can restore rights on a case-by-case basis.

Voting rights restored for non-violent felons in Virginia