artwork from
artwork from

Civil Rights are defined as: the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, the right to hold public office and the right to serve as a notary public. if someone is convicted of felony, then one loses these civil rights.   Virginia Constitution says, “No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the governor.” There is no limitation on the governor’s power to restore rights, and no mention of having to report the names of such people to the General Assembly.

According to

Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states that do not automatically restore convicted felons’ civil rights. Most states restore these rights upon the completion of a prison sentence, probation or parole. In Virginia, felons convicted of a nonviolent offense must wait three years after completing all court obligations—sentencing, fines and probation—then file an application for the restoration of rights to the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

If your conviction is for a violent offense —or a drug manufacturing or distribution offense—the process is much more difficult.

The nonviolent offender’s application is two pages. The violent application is 12. Iachetta calls the violent felony forms cumbersome. “They’re horrible,” she says.

After waiting five years after all court obligations, a person convicted of a violent felony must obtain a burdensome collection of paperwork: a letter from your most recent probation or parole officer, copies of your pre- or post-sentence report, certified copies of every order of conviction and sentencing orders, three letters of reference and, to top it off, a personal letter to the Governor explaining your convictions and how your life has changed.

Iachetta says that roughly half of the people she sees who start the process don’t complete it.

“There’s got to be an easier way,” says Iachetta. “I don’t know at this point what it is. The process can be streamlined. That being said, until it happens, we’ve got to deal with what we’ve got.”

[Note:  Iachetta is Charlottesville’s general registrar]

Governor Bob McDonnell has added another hoop for former felons to jump through. He is now proposing that those who want voting rights restored must write an essay outlining their contributions to society since their release, Civil Rights leaders and many others interested in prisoner rights, are outraged by this plan. They say it targets minorities, the poor and the under-educated and denies them of their civil rights. Others are cheering on McDonnell for ‘meaning business.’

McDonnell defends his own plan in the Washington Post:

McDonnell’s administration said the essay requirement is designed to put a human face on each applicant and to help staff members better understand each person’s situation.

“It gives all applicants the opportunity to have their cases heard and have their full stories told,” said Janet Polarek, secretary of the commonwealth, whose office handles the requests. “It’s an opportunity, not an obstacle.”

McDonnell is revamping the entire system for felons to have their rights restored as he works to make good on a campaign pledge to process every application within 90 days, considerably faster than any other administration in recent history.

“Under Republican and Democratic governors, they have had to wait six to 12 months — longer in some cases — to get an answer,” Polarek said. “Under the McDonnell administration, our goal is to restore the rights of everyone who has fulfilled their obligation in the most timely manner in Virginia’s recent history.”

For those who have difficulty with literacy, writing an essay seems like an immovable obstacle. Where in the Virginia Constitution can this kind of requirement be found?  Many prisoners and past prisoners suffer from the same malady; under-education plagues prisoners.  To ask someone with limited education to write an essay might just fall into the realm of cruel and unusual punishment.

Detailed Historical Information from the League of Women Voters in Fairfax

32 Thoughts to “Virginia Throws up another Hoop for Felons Wanting Restored Civil Rights”

  1. marinm

    If we restore the right to vote, hold office, sit on a jury and act as a notary public why not also return the felons right to have a firearm?

    As it is now; if the Governor restores civil rights back to the felon then the felon can petition the court to restore his/her rights to a firearm back as well.

    So, the question then becomes. If we have an issue with a felon not being able to write an essay on why he should have his rights back do we also not have an issue with him being able to carry a firearm?

    Should felons be able to have access to legal firearms? And, if we make that leap — why do we have background checks. 🙂

    In all seriousness. How can anyone split hairs here. You either get all the rights back or none. And, my personal feeling here is if you were convicted of a crime and are now a felon you have to PROVE that you are a contributing functioning part of society before you can have your rights given back.

  2. Wolverine

    Well, Moon, if that convicted felon does not have enough gumption to write a simple essay to regain his voting rights, what hope is there for him or her to find a decent job and reintegrate into society with a renewed respect for law? Anyway, I don’t think that the governor is looking for papers to correct for spelling and grammar. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the more pressure put on these people to improve themselves in the area of education and communication the better for them and for the rest of us. And in the most extreme cases such as minimal literacy, I am sure they can find someone in our volunteer community, secular and/or temporal, to give them a helping hand at preparing an essay containing their thoughts and opinions and outligning their personal plans for self-improvement. That might even be the key to starting a beneficial learning process for them.

  3. Wolverine

    Ooops — speaking of spelling: “outlining”

  4. Not all people have jobs where being able to read and write is an asset. I actually haven’t taken a position on this issue.

    There are arguments for both sides that are solid.

  5. Lafayette

    I completely agree with Wolverine and marin. Perhaps these convicted felons could have a family member or volunteer write the essay using the felons words. No sympathy here.
    I don’t see Governor McDonnell getting out the red marker to “grade” the essays. Content is what will matter.

  6. No one mentioned grading it. Some people don’t have the ability to write an essay. I didn’t realize cheating was allowed.

    If cheating is allowed, then they should have had it. I am curious how many convicted felons request to have their civil rights reinstated. Should your civil rights be based on what you accomplish after your release from prison? It seems subjective to me.

    Marin, the gun part was uncleared. Supposedly owning a gun isn’t a civil right. I didn’t see anything on that in my travels.

  7. Lafayette

    If the felon can speak, someone can write it. I would hardly call that cheating, it’s transcribing.

    Most felons end up right back in jail. Or they are very good at hiding from the law. I have no give on this issue at the current time. Last week there was a convicted felon lurking around the bus stop in my neighborhood.

    Bottom line don’t break the law, and you don’t have to worry about your civil rights being taken away.

  8. marinm

    The WashPo article tends to gloss over it. Here, I’ll walk everyone through it. shows that “A restoration of rights restores the rights which are lost in Virginia upon getting a felony conviction. These include the rights to vote, to run for and hold public office, to serve on juries and to serve as a Notary Public. It does not include the right to possess or transport any firearm or to carry a concealed weapon.”

    So, it’s interesting. Even though we wish to ‘restore the rights’ of felons there are certain rights that we still feel can be exluded. Which is to say that we could let someone sit on a jury (after they’ve been ‘restored’ but can still exclude that same person from voting if we feel like it).

    Now, it goes further to clarify: [If the Governor restores your rights, you may petition the circuit court of the jurisdiction in which you reside for a permit to possess or carry a firearm. The court may, in its discretion and for good cause shown, grant such a petition and issue a permit.]

    So, once you’ve been restored you CAN ask the courts to get your access to a firearm restored. One can assume that if the governors office has seen fit to restore a person there is a good possibility that the court – with the information provided it by the petitioner – may be able to have legal access to firearms restored.

    So, this is an interesting turn. For the 300K felons in Virginia – do we feel comfortable enough with the idea that once pardoned they’re only a step away from legally being able to have and own a firearm.

    An alternate way of looking at what the governor is doing is – allowing those convicted to tell there story. What lead up to the situation? What has the offender done to rectify? Has the offender been to school? Learned a trade? What do they seek with those rights restored? Basically, what’s the persons story?

    We often hear the refrain that govt is impersonal. Does this not give persons the ability to say, “I made a mistake. I want to do better. I’ve come this far and with my rights restored I believe I can go this further.” I don’t think the governor is looking for fine literature but just a statement of why they should have those rights restored.

    But, the original question still stands. If we’re ok with a child molster (as an example) sitting on a jury over one of us; then why not allow them to have a pistol or rifle alone with that right to vote?

  9. Elena

    Really, is THIS where we want to waste our precious tax dollars? Setting up some stupid panel to evaluate essays??????? Pretty sure we can focus on more critical issues in the state of VA.

  10. We need to adjust sentencing for certain crimes. For certain types of criminals that, statistically, at least to what I’ve seen, such as molesters, that have a high recidivist rate, or premeditated murder, perhaps getting certain civil rights back should be harder. If you commit 1st degree murder, child molestation, or even rape, in some cases , I think life in prison is the least sentence one should get. And then we don’t have to worry about the return of civil rights.

    I don’t have a problem with many ex-felons having firearms because possession of a firearm does not harm others and may be needed for the human right of self defense. BUT, if said criminal commits another crime, whether he uses a gun or not, put him away for life.

  11. Emma

    I’m with Lafayette on this one. When you commit a felony, you have in all likelihood infringed on someone else’s civil rights, so you lose some of yours.

    Are felons clamoring for the right to vote, or is some other organization clamoring for their votes?

  12. Emma,

    The Democrats and the ACLU. Hmmmm, wonder why…….oh yes. November is coming.

  13. Emma

    @cargosquid Ah, yes. Time to bring out the felons, repeat voters and dead people.

  14. I think it depends on what type of felony was committed. There are all sorts of crimes classified as felonies that I don’t think are serious crimes. One such crime would be criminal snow ball assault. (throwing snowballs at a snowplow).

    Growing pot in your attic or back in your woods–felony. I don’t want people who do this to never have their civil rights back.

    Child molesters…I dont care what happens to them.

    I think the rules should be stated and should not change from governor to governor.

    As for writing an essay, how about video taping or writing. I would still like to know how many released felons even ask to be able to vote.

    As for guns, Marin, only non violent felonies should be considered. Let me know what the law is please.

  15. Gang, lets not say that about either party. There have been offenses by both parties.

  16. Pat.Herve

    What is the process now? It is not like they go to a web site and click a page, and get their rights back.

    What is the criteria for a good essay? I doubt I could write a good essay these days, I would also fail my driving test if I had to take it now.

    Felon – no gun. When the felon commits the next crime with a gun, then what – whose Willie Horton will he be.

  17. PWC Taxpayer

    I was neutral on this until I read the Wash Post “editorial” this morning, which should have been on the politics page. Calling the debate regarding Virginia’s process for the restoration of voting rights a new Jim Crow law is nothing but politics to attack a Republican Governor and one who scares them because he may very well successfully seek higher office. First, it was the attack on the proclamation – that did nothing more than to recognize a pivitol group of American soldiers to the history of Virginia. Now the Governor is being slandered by calling a declaration of successful re-entry into Virginia society a new form of Jim Crow literacy test. That is insulting to all Vrginians and is increasingly typical of what has become a less than prestigous, local paper.

  18. Wow pwctp, you sure used a lot of hot button words in there. Slander, American soldiers, Jim Crow Laws, etc. Very partisan, pronounces Dr. Moon…..

    Many organizations who track and follow incarcerations, especially amongst minority populations have howled about Virginia and Kentucky long before McDonnell got involved. Virginia is one of 2 strictest states in the Union. Would you be surprised to learn they also vilified Kaine and Warner? I saw it yesterday when I was researching the article. (Some articles get more time than others, btw.)

    Who is it you think is after McDonnell? The WaPo? The press should keep politicians on their toes. Who better to do it than MSM. <-------I hate that expression. What did you think of News and Messenger singing the praises of our AG over suing the feds? On the subject of that proclamation, it's a no brainer that issuing something like that in its original form was going to bring on the hounds of hell. And he wasn't recognizing AMERICAN soldiers. They were actually enemy combatants in the eyes of the government at the time. That is why I wish he had declared Civil War History month. I don't agree that the governor is bringing back Jim Crow but again, this again is a no- brainer. What does he expect? Let's look at this logically. Your state is already under fire for being too strict, so you pile it on higher and deeper? What does he think it going to happen? The WaPo is still prestigious. I believe it pulled in 4 Pulizer prizes yesterday through its journalists. We might not like what is says but our opinion doesn't contribute or detract from its prestige.

  19. marinm


    I think the law is pretty clear on this. As phrased on the long-form (the one for election offenses, violent crimes or drug possession/manufacturing):


    No. A person convicted of a felony under the laws of Virginia, or any other state or under federal law may not possess or transport any firearm, or carry a concealed weapon (defined to include both handguns and long guns).

    To regain state firearms privileges, a convicted felon may apply to the circuit court of his residence for a permit to possess or carry a firearm. The court “in its discretion and for good cause shown” may grant the petition. If your conviction, however, was for a federal offense, you may only seek restoration of your firearms privileges through the federal system.

    While the Governor has the authority to restore state firearms privileges expressly by a pardon or though restoration of political rights, he does not customarily do so.

    So, the restoration does not give a felon his gun rights back. The courts do. But, you can’t petition the courts until your rights have been restored. Lastly, if you’ve been pardoned by the Governor – your rights are automagically restored.

    If society deems a person to have been restored there is no question in my mind that he should be restored fully and be able to openly carry a firearm without a permit or carry concealed with permit in the Commonwealth. I don’t see why we split hairs here. If you don’t restore his firearm rights, he’s only 3/5s of a person.

    To the original question – I don’t see an issue with the Governor’s plan of having people write an essay.

  20. Pat, I attached a pdf file from the League of Women Voters up in the article section at the bottom. I think you will find it informative. No you didn’t miss it. I just went back and posted it. I had to run this computer in the shop and forgot to post it yesterday.

  21. Wow–once again much ado about nothing. But I must say, the essay requirement sounds kinda like a new form of poll tax.

  22. George, I guess it has to do with who is being denied their civil rights.

    I would have to know if the person had served their full sentence. I wouldn’t take all of those things away forever for some crimed. On the other hand, a rapist or a murderer or a child molester, yes. but I don’t want them out of jail in the first place.

    Rearming? Not sure. I suppose it depends on the circumstances. Perhaps that is what the governor has in mind. Case by case situation.

  23. marinm

    I doubt you’ll see this on the front page of the WashPo

    Former Virginia governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine appears to support a proposal by his Republican successor, Bob McDonnell, to require nonviolent felons to write a letter to have their voting rights restored.

    “Frankly, everyone wrote an essay because they wrote a letter asking for their rights to be restored, and most often in those letters they’d talk about what they had learned,” Kaine said in an interview last night with CBS 6 TV in Richmond.

    Kaine’s statement is surprising because most Democrats in the state, including the Democratic Party of Virginia, the Democratic leaders in the General Assembly and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, issued scathing statements in recent days.

    When Kaine was governor, felons convicted of nonviolent crimes were able to apply to have their voting rights restored by filling out a one-page form with information about their arrest and conviction. McDonnell wants to require offenders to submit a letter to him outlining their contributions to society since their release, turning a nearly automatic process into a more subjective one that some say might prevent poor, less-educated or minority residents from being allowed to vote.

  24. I agree–must have served whatever “hard” time and sentence they got. Murderers and child molesters–never.

    Guns–don’t know. I am not a strong Second Amendment person despite being retired military. We have a need for “militias” well regulated or otherwise like we need a hole in our head. Whe the Consitution was written there was a real need for militias because we had small armed forces which waxed and waned for many decades. If people are to have a right to guns today, maybe we should do like Israel and other countries–you want a gun–OK–you are now in the active military, reserve or guard.

    I say again, thenew essary requirement is just another form of unconstitutional “poll tax.” I suspect it will get overthrown.

  25. Emma

    How unfortunate that one does not have to have even a rudimentary level of literacy in order to vote. But I guess it’s heartening to know that felons are so civic-minded.

  26. They don’t anyway, although people can be literate but still lack the ability to write an essay.

    Interesting concept, George. I did not know that.
    I am a gun owner but it isn’t the sword I am going to fall on. NOthing to prove here.

    Marin, not sure where that article was in the WaPo. So you are saying that Kaine is lying? That convicts who have served their time didn’t have to write a letter asking for voting rights back? I am not sure what your point is.

  27. marinm

    MH, no. What Kaine was saying was… what’s the big deal – these guys were already writing letters anyway. In effect, you can get into college by just filling out a form. Some people write an essay to ‘stand-out’ and others go beyond that and will do video-essays. That felons have been using essays already WITHOUT being required to do so mearly shows that THEY see the value in it because it provides a human touch to what otherwise could be seen as an impersonal form.

    I’m not mearly what a form says I am but more than that. I can’t be ‘explained’ on a form. And, to understand the totality of a felon, his crime, and what he’s done since then to try on his own to reintegrate helps a person – like the governor – to understand why this one person should be shown leniancy and another not.

    Kaine mearly reflected that it already occurs and is a defacto part of the process. That McDonnell wants to make it official is his perogative until we the people change the Virginian constitution.

    But, hey. I’m all for these people getting the rights to vote, to serve on a jury and to open carry a firearm in Virginia. Because, if your gonna restore them, restore them fully and not just 3/5s of the way.

    1. I know what Kaine was saying. I also said I don’t have a real strong opinion about this issue. It depends on what the person did. I would restore their gun rights last. I don’t think the gun rights are quite the same as the other issues.

  28. hello

    ah yes, another example of the left trying to increase their voting base ‘by any means necessary’. Anyone from convicted felons to illegal immigrants… who’s next, children, babies still in the womb, comatose patients in nursing homes? Do they even still have to be alive? Why not let the dead vote from beyond the grave in larger number than they already do?

  29. marinm

    So, would it be fair to say that in your world, it’s ok for a person to be counted as 3/5ths of a person? To give them SOME rights but not others?

    I’m just saying that we need to be consistent. If we say that we trust a member of society labeled as a felon to rejoin society than we can’t be half-assed about it. We gotta go in full monty and give them back ALL their rights. It’s either that or don’t give them back anything on the assumption that as a felon they’ve lost it and should continue to be punished for having been convicted of a high crime.

  30. Gun rights and voting rights aren’t handled the same way. I don’t know what else to say about it. Gun rights are more important to you than they are to me. @marin


    Hello, again, nothing of substance. Do you honestly think someone from the right has never committed voter fraud?

    I am very tired of the incendiary rhetoric on here. Your comments add zero to the discussion. Next time I am just going to place you in moderation. Then, if your comment contributes, you are out. If it doesn’t, it stays behind the scene. I simply don’t understand why you persist in coming on this blog with flaming language.

Comments are closed.