Dem. Governor Candidates Support Restoring Ex-Felon Voting Rights

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Restoring the voting rights of people who've served their time in prison and paid their debt to society should be a no-brainer at this point, especially since even Republican governors like Charlie Crist in Florida have done so. But, sadly, here in Virginia, we've got one of the worst records on that score in the country. As the Richmond Times Dispatch writes this morning, in its account of last night's forum sponsored by the Richmond Crusade for Voters, "Virginia is one of the few states that doesn't allow felons, once they have served their time and finished probation, to qualify automatically for the voting rolls." I would add that prohibiting ex-felons from voting is a pathetic legacy of Jim Crow days. It's morally and intellectually indefensible.

All of which is why I'm so happy to see all three Democratic gubernatorial candidates last night coming out in support of "the immediate restoration of voting rights as soon as non-violent felons finish their probation." I strongly agree with Terry McAuliffe that restoration should be automatic, unlike the current situation in which the governor has to spend time reviewing each case. That's ridiculous; again, these people have done their time and paid their debt to society. After that, there's no excuse whatsoever for preventing them from voting. And it's particularly egregious given the fact that we lock up a disproportionate percentage of African Americans in this country, in large part because of our completely failed "war on drugs," and also because of continued discrimination and higher conviction rates for people without the financial resources to hire the best and slickest defense lawyers.

Thank goodness Jim Webb is pushing to reform this entire screwed-up system, and that Terry McAuliffe has praised Webb's efforts. I only hope that one of those reforms is automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, particularly for non-violent ex-felons. It's long past time.

P.S. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports on the Richmond Crusade for Voters forum, commenting that "During his turn to speak, a more-animated McAuliffe rallied the audience, promising to 'shake up' the way government works with "outside-the-box thinking" that focuses on creating jobs and reinvesting state resources in education as opposed to incarceration."

P.P.S. Mo Elleithee tweets, "Terry brought down the house at the crusade forum tonight in Richmond" and "Crowd loved his energy and bold plans to turn economy around, esp his call for a total ban on payday lending." Folks, I think we've found our feisty progressive candidate in this race! :)