To the editor:
Every year brings new issues to face here in Virginia. Not to be lost in the shuffle is a critical issue: there are over 300,000 people without one of their civil rights the right to vote.
Alexandria Del. Charniele Herring (D-46) has proposed HJ 543, a constitutional amendment that would allow the General Assembly to allow former, non-violent felons to have their voting rights restored without relying on the approving stroke of a governors pen. The people who are covered under this proposal have completed their sentence, paid fines and paid restitution to their victims. Non-violent former felons are people who made a mistake, but they should not be denied the right most essential to participating in democracy the right to a voice in electing officials.
HJ 543 will allow the General Assembly the flexibility to allow individuals to be full citizens. This proposal takes nothing away from the Office of the Governor, which currently sets restoration of rights policy; however, it gives the General Assembly the ability to have a meaningful discussion on moving forward with a consistent process.
Virginia is one of only two states leaving voting rights restoration up to the governor. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has put in place a program that has led to restoration of voting rights to 91 percent of non-violent convicted felons who have applied. What happens when the next governor takes office? He or she does not have to follow the policies of the current governor and is not obligated to restore anyones voting rights. We need a consistent process in the commonwealth, and HJ 543 will allow this to happen.