VA’s literacy test, open source version

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, proud leader of the Republican resurgence in America, has spent the week fending off accusations that he’s (again) a disgrace to his own state. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that McDonnell would require “nonviolent felons” to write an essay “outlining their contributions to society since their release” as part of applying to have their voting rights restored. It’s tantamount to a literacy test, the kind of hurdle used to keep African Americans from voting under Jim Crow. Today on his “Ask the Governor” radio show, McDonnell walked that back a nubbin:
[T]here’s no essay, we’ve asked for just a simple, uh, statement of what the person has done in order to be reintegrated into society, a little bit about their crime, what they’ve done to get back into society, any community activities, and we’re still in the draft stages, we’re probably going to make that part of an overall form, so I’m very disappointed with some of those unfounded criticisms by Democrats against this process.
Let’s go to the documents, shall we? The Washington Post put online a letter signed by Micah Womack, Director of Rights Restoration and sent to a non-violent offender on Feb. 26, 2010. It asks for the man’s “cooperation in providing” a “details of offense letter” including a description of the offenses, plus information on employment status, “strides in education,” involvement in “church activities” and “any and all service to the community.” The man has a deadline of April 1, 2010. Compare that to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website, which offers a “short form” application for people with nonviolent, nondrug offenses. That two-page document, which has “2008” right in its filename, makes no mention of a “details of offense letter.” Download the PDF, right-click on it, and look under “properties.” You’ll see that it was authored by an “mwomack” – Micah Womack, maybe? – on Friday, July 25, 2008, at 3:32:26 PM. By all indications, this document is practically musty. It doesn’t appear to have changed in nearly two years, since well before McDonnell took office.

(The short form, born on July 25, 2008)

On to the “long form,” for people with violent and drug-distribution felonies. A note on page one says the document was “Revised 4 April 2008.” It asks for a “personal letter (details of offense letter)” including “a personal account of the circumstances surrounding your conviction(s), how your life has changed since then, if you are involved in any community activities, and, why, in particular, you feel your rights should be restored.” And that’s it. The form makes no mention of church activities, employment status, or community service – as the letter from Micah Womack did.

(The long form, born on March 31, 2010)

What’s more, if you download the PDF and check its properties, you’ll see it was created on Wednesday, March 31, 2010, at 5:33:00, with no author listed. At least as a file, it’s much, much newer than the short form that’s supposedly being changed. So which is it? Has McDonnell in fact changed the policy for nonviolent felons, so that they have to write personal essays, too? If the state is in fact already requesting that of nonviolent felons, then how can the policy be only a draft? And why hasn’t the state updated its application form to reflect what the governor’s now asking? Only the long form appears to have been updated, and then only in its behind-the-scenes file magic. If the new policy or draft or whatever it turns out to be merely extends the essay requirement from violent and drug offenders to nonviolent and non-drug ones, then why does the letter under the new administration make explicit mention of church activities? The old requirement didn’t. We’ve got messages in to the governor’s office. As we hear more, we’ll tell you more.