Opinion pieces in today’s Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Roanoke Times Say Governor can and should issue executive order before leaving office

Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today urged Virginians to contact Governor Kaine to ask him to issue an executive order that would restore voting rights to most or all of Virginia’s 300,000 individuals who are being denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction.

Civil rights and faith-based groups from across a broad ideological spectrum have asked Kaine to take executive action before leaving office. Among those that joined forces recently to seek the executive order are the NAACP Virginia State Conference, Virginia League of Women Voters, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Virginia Organizing Project, STEP-UP, Incorporated, Virginia CURE, The Northern Virginia Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, The Rutherford Institute, and the Virginia Conference United Methodist Church. The Virginia Catholic Conference and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. State Social Action Task Force and the Old Dominion Bar Association have also called for reform of Virginia’s felon disfranchisement law.

Those interested in joining the effort can learn more about it and contact the governor by visiting www.restoreourvote.org.

Only Virginia and Kentucky permanently disfranchise all felons upon conviction, requiring an act of the Governor to restore voting rights. Of the forty-eight other states, two never remove voting rights and most automatically restore rights upon completion of prison sentences, parole or probation.

Governor Kaine has been asked numerous times during his tenure as Governor to take action to modernize Virginia’s antiquated felon disfranchisement law that once was a centerpiece of Jim Crow. Advocates are hopeful that he will follow the lead of the Democratic Governor of Iowa and Republican Governor of Florida, both of whom took executive action in the last few years to reform their states’ felon disfranchisement policies.

Under the Virginia Constitution, only the Governor has the power to restore voting rights. In practice that has been accomplished through a cumbersome application process resulting in a few thousand individuals having their rights restored during the term of recent governors. However, the Governor of Virginia, like those in other states with similar constitutional provisions, has the power to issue a blanket restoration order that would grant voting rights to everyone who has lost them.

“There is still time for the Governor to act before leaving office,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We know he and his staff have studied the issue closely over the last six weeks, so this is not something new to him.”

Documents and references

The pieces in today’s newspapers can be accessed at:
“Virginia’s ballot-box disgrace.” Editorial, Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/12/AR2010011203386.html
“Restore the Right to Vote to These Virginians.” Op-Ed, Richmond Times-Dispatch: http://www.richmond.com/news/article_45e6f8a9-f8f6-5adb-9ab6-ca84fa2a26c4.html
“Law Allows Kaine to Act on Voting Rights.” Op-Ed, Roanoke Times: http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/232768
For more information on felon disfranchisement in Virginia including earlier editorials and columns supporting reform of the law and recent legislative history, visit www.restoreourvote.org. For a comparison of Virginia with other states, visit www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/fd_bs_fdlawsinus.pdf.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022