Is Kaine Correct on Voting Rights Restoration?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yesterday, on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show, Tim Kaine had the following exchange with a caller:
Question from Jim in Chesapeake: "Yes, governor, I'm calling about the fact that you and former Governor Warner have restored the rights of ex-felons, and more so than other governors I know of. I would like to know, in your last week, with a stroke of a pen, you can sign an executive order and restore their voting rights and change the history of Virginia forever. Will you do it, and if not why not?

Response from Tim Kaine: is the case that in the history of Virginia, I've restored more voting rights of those who have been disenfranchised because of felony convictions than any other governor. And I very strongly believe that people who have paid their debt to society should have voting rights restored. And so, anybody who applies...I think I've restored maybe 4,300 voting rights...There are some who have suggested what I should do is just sign an order and restore everybody's voting rights. Our read of Virginia law, the combination of the constitution and statutory provisions is...well, we think the legal argument for me being able to do a blanket restoration is very murky, that I have to restore by name. And the best way to do that is to have people just file an application...But the ability to do just kind of a blanket restoration, restoring unnamed individuals, is very very murky...
Is Governor Kaine correct that he can't do a blanket restoration of voting rights? I checked with the Virginia Organizing Project, which is working hard to persuade Kaine to do just that, and here's their read on this:
In fact, the Constitution of Virginia poses no obstacle to the automatic restoration of voting rights to all or some portion of offenders who have completed their sentences. To the contrary, Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution grants the Governor plenary authority to “remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction.”

Unlike the Governor’s power to remit fines and penalties, the power to restore the right to vote is not qualified by “such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by law.” Similarly, although the Governor must report to the General Assembly “the particulars of every case of fine or penalty remitted, or reprieve or pardon granted, and of punishment commuted,” the Constitution imposes no reporting obligation for restoration of voting rights.
So, there you have it: Governor Kaine not only should issue a blanket restoration of voting rights for people who have "done their time," he can issue a blanket restoration. So, to paraphrase Jim in Chesapeake, "Will Governor Kaine do it, and if not why not?"