Our View: Paying the price earns a vote


A chief goal of imprisonment is rehabilitation, supposedly. In other words, along with keeping dangerous people isolated from society and punishing those who break the law, prisons provide second chances and a means to re-join society but not in Virginia.
Ex-felons cannot vote in Virginia, unless the governor signs off on it three to five years after their sentence ends, depending on the crime. Voting is integral to being a functioning, productive member of society, yet the current state law represses convicts ability to reform, even after serving their time. The current law is an antiquated affront to democracy and should be changed, which Del. Charniele Herring (D-46) is attempting, thankfully.
Virginia is one of the last states to abide by the tilted philosophy that even after imprisonment total citizenship is impossible. If a person has committed a felony but paid the price with a prison term (and stayed out of trouble for the length of their parole), their voting rights should be resumed immediately, without a petition to the governor. Its difficult enough for a felon to reintegrate into society and lead a productive life, and voting is one of if not the most important duty of any citizen.
Voting rights for ex-felons is not a political issue. Yet Republicans and Democrats have politicized it, drowning the real issue, the right to suffrage, amid partisan rhetoric. Some Republicans fear votes for ex-felons means tallies for Democrats in a swing state, as most ex-prisoners are Blue-leaning minorities. Democrats wont argue with more party votes, but painting an entire party with a broad anti-voting brush is troublesome. Much like the fight for Congressional voting rights in the District, the focus of the debate should be returned to the wrongful disenfranchisement of voters.
We have an opportunity in light of the Tucson tragedy to civilize discourse in our country to make it more magnanimous and less partisan. Passing this bill would be a small political sacrifice on the part of Republicans, but a wonderful gesture. Someone has to take the first step toward doing the right thing, rather than the politically expedient thing. There will never be a better time.