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Virginia Republicans Press For Restoration Of Voting Rights For Felons

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Felons in Virginia may soon have their voting rights restored—and its Republicans leading the charge.
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Felons in Virginia may soon have their voting rights restored—and its Republicans leading the charge.

Republican leaders in Virginia are moving forward with a plan that could increase the number of felons who have their voting rights restored.

When Republican Governor Bob McDonnell gave his State of the Commonwealth Address earlier this year, many were surprised to hear him pressing for restoration of voting rights for felons, not an issue that's traditionally associated with Republicans. When Ken Cuccinelli was in the state Senate, for example, he opposed restoration of voting rights. Now that he's attorney general—and running for governor—Cuccinelli has changed his tune.

"Being in the middle of it for a number of years changed my opinion on this particular point. I think I'm consistent with some of the other things I've done in the criminal justice arena," he says.

This week, Cuccinelli released a report unveiling a list of options to expedite the process. The ACLU immediately criticized one of the key findings that the governor does not have the power to issue an executive order restoring voting rights.

“While we praise Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for becoming an advocate for reform of Virginia’s felony disenfranchisement law, we are extremely disappointed in the conclusion of his Rights Restoration Advisory Committee that the Governor does not have the power to restore rights by executive order,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga in a statement.

Cuccinelli stands by the finding, though. "The ACLU is wrong. There is no legal basis under the existing Constitution to do that kind of blanket restoration. It has to be done on an individualized basis," says Cuccinelli.

Today Republican Governor Bob McDonnell is expected to issue his proposal on expanding voting rights for felons.

UPDATE, 2 p.m.: Governor Bob McDonnell decided this afternoon to automatically restore the voting rights of felons. The policy change means nonviolent felons will not have to apply to regain their rights, including the right to vote.

As soon as the administration determines that a nonviolent felon has served his sentence and doesn't have any pending felony charges, the governor will send a letter restoring the person's rights. A spokesman for the governor says it's as far as the governor can go to expedite restoration of rights under existing Virginia law. McDonnell already has streamlined the process and has restored rights to more felons than any previous administration.

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