RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/AP) – Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office announce Friday that he will restore voting rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons who have completed their sentences (including completing parole). These Virginians will now be able to register to vote without undertaking any steps to restore their voting rights post-conviction. Each of those Virginians will immediately regain the right to register to vote, to run for office, to serve on a jury and to serve as a notary public.
“Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy” — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
“Throughout my administration my team and I have operated on a simple principle: Virginians who have served their time and reentered society should do so as full citizens of our Commonwealth and country,” said McAuliffe. “Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy. Today we are reversing that disturbing trend and restoring the rights of more than 200,000 of our fellow Virginians who work, raise families and pay taxes in every corner of our Commonwealth.”
“Today’s historic announcement from Governor McAuliffe means a stronger commonwealth where we value and respect the voices and contributions of individuals who have made mistakes and are ready and eager to fully rejoin public life.” — Progress Virginia executive director Anna Scholl
McAuliffe implemented his action by signing an order restoring the rights of every Virginia felon who completed his or her sentence and all other requirements as of April 22, 2016. The total number of Virginians impacted by the Governor’s order today is 206,000. He also instructed the Secretary of the Commonwealth to prepare a similar order monthly in order to restore the rights of individuals who complete their sentences in the future.
Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia grants the Governor the authority to “remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction” of a felony.
Previous to Friday’s action, the McAuliffe Administration restored the rights of more than 18,000 Virginians, which is more than the past seven governors combined over their full four-year terms.
He has also worked to reform the restoration process by reducing the waiting period for more serious offenders from five years to three, classifying all drug-related convictions as non-violent, shortening the application for more serious offenders from 13 pages to one page, removing a requirement that individuals pay their court costs before they can have their rights restored, and ensuring that a notation will be included in an individual’s criminal record designating that his or her rights have been restored.
Governor Terry McAuliffe | InsideGov
“Governor McAuliffe could easily have excluded those who have committed heinous acts of violence from this order, yet he chose not to. His decision to issue a blanket restoration, without regard to the nature of the crimes committed doesn’t speak of mercy. Rather, it speaks of political opportunism.” — Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck
“If we are going to build a stronger and more equal Virginia, we must break down barriers to participation in civic life for people who return to society seeking a second chance,” McAuliffe explained. “We must welcome them back and offer the opportunity to build a better life by taking an active role in our democracy. I believe it is time to cast off Virginia’s troubling history of injustice and embrace an honest, clean process for restoring the rights of these men and women.”
Joining McAuliffe at today’s announcement were Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson, former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney, the Rev. Ben Campbell and Raja Johnson.
Campbell is the founder of Richmond Hill, an ecumenical Christian fellowship and residential community which actively seeks reconciliation in Richmond. He was named Richmond’s “Peacemaker of the Year” in 2013 by the Richmond Peace Education Center. Johnson is a single mother and resident of Richmond, Governor McAuliffe restored her rights in 2014. Johnson has since gone on to obtain a Medical Associates Degree.
Not everyone was happy with the governor’s order. Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck called the order “political opportunism.” Whitbeck issued the following statement on McAuliffe’s Rights Restoration Order :
“It was a Republican governor who began the long overdue work of restoring the rights of nonviolent felons. Few if any disagree that those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in that society. Mercy requires that we as Virginians be a Commonwealth of second chances. But there are limits.”
“Governor McAuliffe could easily have excluded those who have committed heinous acts of violence from this order, yet he chose not to. His decision to issue a blanket restoration, without regard to the nature of the crimes committed doesn’t speak of mercy. Rather, it speaks of political opportunism.”
“This blanket action, undertaken for such blatant political purposes, sullies the hard-won second chances for those who have worked so hard to overcome their mistakes. Restoration of rights should be a celebration of overcoming, not a transparent effort to win votes.”
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) echoed Whitbecks statement:
“I am stunned yet not at all surprised by the Governor’s action. I am stunned at his broad and unprecedented view of executive power, which directly contradicts how past Governors have interpreted their clemency powers, and I am stunned at his willingness to restore the rights of the most heinous criminals without batting an eye. Yet, I am not surprised by the lengths to which he is willing to go to deliver Virginia to Hillary Clinton in November.
“There are significant constitutional and legal questions regarding the Governor’s authority to take such drastic action. No Governor in the history of Virginia has accepted such a sweeping view of executive power. A.E. Dick Howard notes in his commentaries that Governors have considered the “restoration of civil disabilities on an individual basis. The Supreme Court has acknowledged the Governor’s authority on the restoration of rights, but only in the context of requests made by individuals. The Court does not appear to have ever contemplated the view taken by the Governor. Most recently, in 2010, counsel to Governor Tim Kaine said ‘a blanket order restoring the voting rights of everyone would be a rewrite of the law rather than a contemplated use of the executive clemency powers.’
“It is hard to describe how transparent the Governor’s motives are. The singular purpose of Terry McAuliffe’s governorship is to elect Hillary Clinton President of the United States. This office has always been a stepping stone to a job in Hillary Clinton’s cabinet. The one-time nature of this action is proof positive of the Governor’s political motivations. Instead of adopting a clear policy that can be applied equitably, he is changing the rules in the middle of the 2016 election to ensure Hillary Clinton’s victory.
“When convicted felons have completed their sentence and paid their debt to society, they deserve the opportunity to demonstrate they once again deserve their civil rights. However, there should be a clear, consistent, and delineated policy that applies fairly and equitably. That policy should take into account the nature of the crimes committed, whether they have paid back their victims and the court system, and their willingness to serve as productive members of society.
“The Governor’s policy applies to criminals who have committed even the most heinous violent crimes including murder, rape, child rape, and kidnapping. Under this Governor’s policy, violent criminals will be treated the same as lifelong law-abiding citizens. Not only will these criminals have the right to vote, but they will also be serving on our juries. By using no discretion in this process, the Governor is undermining the strength of the criminal justice system and the sanctity of our civil rights.
“We will immediately begin a detailed review of the Governor’s policy to determine what options are available to the General Assembly.”
For more information about the Governor’s order, frequently asked questions and the status of individual restoration of rights petitions, please visit: http://www.Commonwealth.Virginia/RoR
The full text of Governor McAuliffe’s order restoring the rights of more than 200,000 Virginians is below:
Order for the Restoration of Rights
TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME – GREETINGS:
WHEREAS, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia requires that all those convicted of a felony be deprived of their civil right to vote unless they have their civil rights restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority; and
WHEREAS, it is estimated that approximately 206,000 Virginians are permanently disenfranchised from participating in political life due to prior felony convictions even after completing their court-ordered sentences; and
WHEREAS, such disenfranchisement disproportionately affects racial minorities and economically disadvantaged Virginians; and
WHEREAS, Virginians have increasingly advanced the ideals of equality of all races and peoples, while rejecting the indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts; and
WHEREAS, the Governor is empowered by Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia “to remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction,” thus to restore the political rights of any persons disqualified by Article II, Section 1; and
WHEREAS, the power granted to the Governor under Article V, Section 12 to remove political disabilities is absolute and without any limitation not expressly stated within the Constitution of Virginia; and
WHEREAS, all individuals who have served the terms of their incarceration and any periods of supervised release deserve to re-enter society on fair and just terms, including to participate in the political and economic advancement of Virginia; and
WHEREAS, the restoration of civil rights has been noted to achieve substantial benefits for those individuals who have felt long-exiled from mainstream life; and
WHEREAS, democracy is strengthened by having more citizens involved in the political process;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terence R. McAuliffe, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, by and through the authority vested in me under Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia, do hereby order the removal of the political disabilities consequent upon conviction of a felony imposed by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia from all those individuals who have, as of this 22nd day of April 2016, (1) completed their sentences of incarceration for any and all felony convictions; and (2) completed their sentences of supervised release, including probation and parole, for any and all felony convictions. The civil rights restored by this Order are: (1) the right to vote; (2) the right to hold public office; (3) the right to serve on a jury; and (4) the right to act as a notary public. Nothing in this Order restores the right to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.
Given under my hand and under the Lesser Seal of the Commonwealth at Richmond, on April 22, 2016 in the 240th year of the Commonwealth.
The ACLU of Virginia said that they applaud McAuliffe’s executive order.
ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga released the following statement:
“The Governor’s action today matched our hopes and exceeded our expectations. The ACLU of Virginia has urged three straight governors to use their executive and constitutional power to restore the rights of all Virginians who have served their time and completed probation and parole. In our most recent letter to Gov. McAuliffe on March 7, we pointed to ‘the significant and continuing adverse impact of the racial disparities of our racial justice system’ as one of the most important reasons to let Virginians who have paid the price for their actions once again be a part of the democratic process and enjoy the full rights of citizenship.
“It is particularly commendable that the Governor included both non-violent and violent ex-offenders in his order, directed the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office to monitor newly eligible persons and restore their rights on a monthly basis, and restated that eligibility is not contingent upon individuals having paid their fines and court costs.
“Governor McAuliffe deserves high praise for significant actions taken before today: 1) restoring the voting rights of more than 18,000 Virginian (more than the previous seven governors combined), 2) smoothing the restoration process for persons convicted of non-violent drug offenses, and 3) eliminating a requirement that court costs and fines be repaid before restoration (something he correctly labeled today ‘a vestige of the poll tax’). Today’s executive order reflects the Governor’s recognition that the depth of disenfranchisement in Virginia and its deep roots in Virginia’s Jim Crow past required bolder executive action for progress to be made.”
Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker had a similar reaction in her statement:
“Today will be remembered as a profound and historic day in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Governor McAuliffe’s action is an enormous step towards mitigating the effects of archaic Civil War-era barriers to the polls. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians will finally have an opportunity to exercise the most fundamental right we have as Americans.
“Unfortunately, it’s abundantly clear that Republicans in Virginia remain steadfast in their troubling efforts to disenfranchise African-American and minority voters. If someone has served their time and has rejoined their community, they deserve to participate in our Democracy.”
It is important to point out that the Governor’s announcement today does not mean they can show up to vote on Election Day. First, they must register to vote. To help Virginians understand the voting process generally, Revive My Vote has launched a new online learning tool to help Virginians understand today’s announcement and what to do next. Users will learn what this announcement means and how to vote in Virginia.
“I am stunned yet not at all surprised by the Governor’s action. I am stunned at his broad and unprecedented view of executive power, which directly contradicts how past Governors have interpreted their clemency powers, and I am stunned at his willingness to restore the rights of the most heinous criminals without batting an eye.” — Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell
“It is Revive My Vote’s goal to ensure that Virginians be able to vote, regardless of how much they knew about voting prior to this announcement,” explained Revive My Vote’s Executive Director Mark Listes.
To use the tool, go to http://www.revivemyvote.com.
Call Revive My Vote for more information about the Governor’s new policy, have your questions answered, and to get help with what this announcement means for you or someone in your family. The call is toll-free, and all services are free and confidential. For answers to your questions please call 1-844-932-8683.
“It is particularly commendable that the Governor included both non-violent and violent ex-offenders in his order, directed the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office to monitor newly eligible persons and restore their rights on a monthly basis, and restated that eligibility is not contingent upon individuals having paid their fines and court costs.” — ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga
Progress Virginia celebrated Governor McAuliffe’s groundbreaking rights restoration announcement that will allow thousands of Virginians who have paid their debt to society to fully participate in our democracy.
“Today is a great day for Virginians, especially those individuals who have paid their debt to society and yearn to be able to fully participate in our democracy,” said Progress Virginia Executive Director Anna Scholl. “Our state and our country are stronger when everyone’s voice is heard.
“Today’s historic announcement from Governor McAuliffe means a stronger commonwealth where we value and respect the voices and contributions of individuals who have made mistakes and are ready and eager to fully rejoin public life.”