AG outlines plans to improve restoration of voting rights for felons

Posted at 6:58 PM, May 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-28 22:00:46-04

RICHMOND, VA (WTVR) -- Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli discussed the findings of his Rights Restoration Advisory Committee Tuesday.

Presently, convicted felons can only vote in Virginia if the Governor approves their request through an often times painstakingly slow process.

The Committee was formed after Cuccicnelli's efforts in the General Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment for automatic restoration of voting rights for non-violent offenders failed earlier this year.

Cuccinelli told reporters that while he supports a constitutional amendment, he believes it is unlikely to pass the General Assembly.

As a result his suggestions are meant to improve the current process.

They include working with faith-based leaders to communicate with convicted felons how they can restore their rights. Additionally, he suggests adding staff positions to the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office in order increase the amount of applications the office can process.

While a new government agency to address the issue is an option, Cuccinelli told reporters he did not think it was needed.

"I believe we need a simpler way for individuals to be given a second chance," Cuccinelli said.

The announcement is good news for convicted felons like Rob Edwards who say being out of prison and not being able to vote is humiliating.

"It is like a feeling of being secluded that your not part of society," Edwards said.

The Attorney General's position is a major flip-flop from positions he originally had when he began his political career in the State Senate. At that time, Cuccinelli repeatedly voted against amendments to automatically restore non-violent felon rights.

While he has been in favor of the restoration of rights for several years, including advocating for a constitutional amendment last GA Session, Democrats have reacted negatively.

Democrat Senator Mamie Locke released the following statement:

“After spending the last decade opposing efforts to restore voting rights to Virginians who have paid their debt to society, Ken Cuccinelli is trying to take credit for the hard work of others with an election-year flip-flop. A man who called voting rights restoration ‘jailbird registration’ has no business claiming to be supportive of this effort.”

When asked by CBS 6 political reporter Joe St. George why he changed his position, Cuccinelli explained that the increase in misdemeanor-like felony convictions was a major factor.

"If you steal $200 dollars today you are in the felony category," Cuccinelli said.

Democratic strategist Paul Goldman helped come up with the recommendations with the Attorney General. Goldman suggested the accusations of "flip flopping" by Democrats are unnecessary, recommending that the Democrats should take advantage of the opportunity to work with a Republican to solve an issue that has been a staple of their platform for quite some time.

"Everything isn't about cheap political gain all the time," Goldman said.

Governor Bob McDonnell is set to make a voting rights restoration announcement of his own on Wednesday.