Disenfranchisement News: Governor Backing out of 'Backwards' Requirement?
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April 16, 2010
Virginia's new governor, Robert McDonnell, last weekend proposed adding yet another hurdle for residents seeking the restoration of voting rights - writing an essay. Despite the fact that 200 letters were sent to individuals explaining the need to write a detailed letter for restoration consideration, spokesman Tucker Martin said the media had reported prematurely and explained that a staffer erroneously sent the correspondence to residents. "This remains a draft policy proposal. Nothing has changed," he told the Washington Post.
He continued, "The Governor believes strongly in second chances and helping individuals regain their voting rights, and he is committed to instituting a restoring process that is the fastest and fairest in the modern history of Virginia."
Throughout this week, organizations, individuals and media editorials called the governor's proposal 'backwards' including coverage on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and a strong editorial in the Washington Post which read:
"Now Mr. McDonnell may be compounding the damage by insisting that nonviolent former felons -- people convicted of shoplifting and other property crimes, for instance -- must do more than just apply to the state if they wish to vote, a process that until now has been time-consuming but generally successful for those who stick with it. Mr. McDonnell would have them submit a letter making the case that they have contributed to society since their release -- an utterly arbitrary standard. What's more, they are asked to explain why they think they should get their rights back.
As we see it, the correct answer is: Because they are rights. Period. By insisting on this exercise in expository writing, Mr. McDonnell is transforming the process into a kind of literacy test -- as obnoxious in its own way as the literacy tests of Jim Crow, which were intended to exclude blacks from voting. Whatever the intent, the likely effect will be to dissuade thousands of people who might otherwise apply."
The news came on the heels of the Governor declaring April "Confederate History Month" without including any reference to slavery; he later apologized and amended the proclamation. As reported by CBS affiliate WTVR, Doug Smith of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy said the idea has racist undertones, stemming from the 1902 Virginia Constitutional Convention when then-Delegate Carter Glass wanted to limit the power of African Americans in politics. In concurrence, American Prospect posted a blog that concluded with "Happy Confederate History Month."
Click the following news links to read more coverage.
WHSV, ABC affiliate
Click the following news links to read editorials, blogs and op-ed columns:
Prior to the governor's recanting, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights wrote a letter to the Attorney General asking if Virginia would seek preclearance for the new requirement under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Democracy Restoration Act Lobby Day is scheduled for April 28 in Virginia to urge leaders to support proposed legislation that would allow individuals with felony records to vote in federal elections.
The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.