Given the sweeping voting restrictions being imposed by Republican policymakers in many states, it’s heartening to occasionally see an official stepping up to expand voting rights for a change.
Ari Melber reported back in November on the “often invisible barrier to voting that is upending elections around the country.” He was referring to more than 5 million Americans who are prohibited from voting because they have criminal records. In all, 48 out of 50 states impose some kind of restrictions on convict voting, and more than half bar former convicts from voting even after they are released from prison.
Virginia has some of the most punitive policies in the nation, disenfranchising roughly 350,000 adult citizens – including a fifth of the state’s black population.
To his credit, the commonwealth’s Democratic governor is doing something about it.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced today that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list.The policy slated to take effect April 21 comes on top of years of work to streamline the process, and aims to make the system easier to understand and to allow more felons to petition the state more quickly.In a series of changes to the state’s restoration of rights process, McAuliffe wants to collapse the application waiting period from five to three years for people convicted of violent felonies and others that require a waiting period, and to remove drug offenses from that list.
“Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “These changes will build on the process Virginia has in place to increase transparency for applicants and ensure that we are restoring Virginians’ civil rights quickly and efficiently after they have applied and observed any necessary waiting period.”
Note, this is quickly becoming a national issue.
Adam Serwer reported two months ago on the attorney general’s interest in the subject.
Disenfranchisement of the formerly incarcerated is unnecessary, unjust and counterproductive, Attorney General Eric Holder told an audience at the Georgetown University Law Center on Tuesday.“At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War discrimination,” Holder said. “And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus and fear.”
What’s more, the issue isn’t entirely one-sided when it comes to partisanship, either.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) supports restoring voting rights for convicted felons who have completed their sentences, the Courier-Journal reported Monday.Speaking at Louisville’s Plymouth Community Renewal Center, Paul said he would push for changes to legislation to make it easier for felons to restore their right to vote and own firearms upon completing their sentences. Under current Kentucky law, felons must petition the governor in order to regain these rights.
This “often invisible barrier” can be torn down. Kudos to McAuliffe for helping take the lead on the issue.