Signer and Wagner: Dueling Press Releases on Ex-Felon Voting Rights

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Mike Signer for LG campaign just issued the following statement on the issue of ex-felon voting rights. Signer's statement is in response to the Jody Wagner campaign's criticism of him on this issue; see her press release right after Signer's. Personally, I'm thrilled to see both Wagner and Signer supportive of automatic voting rights restoration.

Arlington VA – The Mike Signer campaign is glad to see a discussion about a real issue of social justice from the Wagner campaign, rather than the recitation of political endorsements and campaign finance figures that dominated the Wagner campaign’s strategy for months. Social justice and economic fairness have been a hallmark of the Signer campaign. Mike has been a national voice on the issue of restoration of rights, recently publishing a prominent national article in the Huffington Post on the topic (attached) and has been a Virginia leader on electoral reform and social justice, serving as voter protection coordinator for the Democrats in Virginia in 2004 and as founder of the New Electoral Reform Alliance for Virginia. As deputy counselor for then-Governor Mark Warner, Mike learned first-hand that the system is in desperate need of overhaul and was proud to be the first candidate to call for reforming the system.

“If you told me there was man seeking statewide office in Virginia who proactively raised the systemic disenfranchisement of African-Americans as an issue worth addressing, I would have called you crazy or a liar, but that’s just what Mike Signer did,” wrote prominent African-American blogger Baratunde Thurston on his blog Jack and Jill Politics when Mike initially published his article on this Jim Crow-era policy. Thurston went on to say that he would do what he can to increase the awareness of Mike’s campaign, because “someone who does something like this is worth a second, third and fourth look.”

While the Signer campaign regrets that those cited in the Wagner campaign’s release did not previously contact the Signer campaign to discuss their position on this issue, Mike is delighted that there appears to be a consensus on driving automatic restoration forward, and is more than happy to support the immediate restoration of rights for ex-offenders.

The lack of true discussion on this important issue, which Mike has made a central plank of his campaign from day one, further highlights the need for a real debate among candidates, as the Signer campaign proposed today. Finally, it is essential to remember that none of these much needed social justice changes in Virginia will ever be possible without Democrats supporting, working hard for, and—most importantly—voting for progressive Democrats, especially in primaries.

For more information about the campaign, please visit

Today, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus expressed profound disappointment with Lt. Governor candidate Mike Signer's proposal of a mandatory waiting period for the restoration of voting rights. The statements follow Signer's repeated insistence that Virginians who have served their time should be subject to another year without voting rights, instead of immediate restoration upon the completion of the sentence, probation or parole.

"We're very disappointed with Mike Signer's proposal of a mandatory waiting period. It is baffling that for weeks he has claimed to be a leader on this issue, but in reality, he is alone among both of his opponents and all three Democratic candidates for Governor in calling for a mandatory waiting period for the restoration of voting rights. As proud Virginia Democrats, we staunchly believe that once a Virginian has served his or her time, they deserve to have their rights restored immediately," said Senator Mamie Locke.

In a video posted by the campaign, and in a recent interview on the Blue Commonwealth blog, Signer promoted his plan to mandate that Virginians who have completed their sentence wait one year before having their voting rights restored. As part of his rationale, Signer claims that his plan will cut back on recidivism and that is necessary to placate conservative members of the General Assembly. Signer's plan, however, would place Virginia behind 35 other states in terms of progressive policies on voting rights restoration.

Lt. Gov. candidate Jody Wagner has called for immediate restoration of voting rights for all ex-felons upon completion of their sentence. She does not believe that Virginians who have completed their debt to society should prove themselves for a year before having their voting rights restored, nor does she believe we should play politics with this issue.

"Many of us have fought for years to overturn the continued disfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Virginia's citizens. I am excited to support Jody Wagner's plan to bring Virginia in line with the majority of the country, including our neighboring states, by automatically restoring voting rights to individuals who have paid their debt to society. Freeing Virginia from this vestige of Jim Crow requires real progressive action. We stand behind Jody's commitment to fight for automatic restoration," said Del. Kenneth C. Alexander, Chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

Senator Louise Lucas said: "I applaud Jody Wagner on taking a strong stand for civil rights by endorsing the automatic restoration of rights for restored citizens. Jody and our other Democratic leaders are standing up for justice, and we hope Mike Signer will reconsider his opinion on this issue, which affects so many Virginians."