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 c-ville.com:
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