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McAuliffe to speed rights restoration

Drug crimes won’t require waiting period as Virginia streamlines procedures

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced today that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list.

The policy slated to take effect April 21 comes on top of years of work to streamline the process, and aims to make the system easier to understand and to allow more felons to petition the state more quickly.

In a series of changes to the state’s restoration of rights process, McAuliffe wants to collapse the application waiting period from five to three years for people convicted of violent felonies and others that require a waiting period, and to remove drug offenses from that list.

In Virginia, only the governor can restore civil rights to felons, and attempts over the years to change the Virginia Constitution to allow for automatic restoration have failed.

Last year, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell altered the system to automatically restore rights on an individualized basis once nonviolent felons served their time, paid fines and restitution and met other court-ordered conditions.

Violent felons must currently wait five years after they serve their time and have paid court costs, fines and restitution.

McAuliffe plans to provide a list of the offenses that require a waiting period, collapse the time frame and remove drug crimes from that list, such as drug distribution and drug manufacturing.

“Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

“These changes will build on the process Virginia has in place to increase transparency for applicants and ensure that we are restoring Virginians’ civil rights quickly and efficiently after they have applied and observed any necessary waiting period.”

McAuliffe has restored the civil rights to more than 800 people since taking office, according to his team.

Civil rights restoration includes the right to vote, hold public office, serve on a jury and serve as a notary public. It does not restore the right to have a firearm.

Virginia is one of eight states that have permanent disenfranchisement for at least some people with criminal convictions, unless government approves individual rights restoration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

There are an estimated 350,000 disenfranchised people in the state, according to The Sentencing Project.

Several groups have advocated for years for changes to the state’s restoration process. The ACLU of Virginia and the NAACP called on McDonnell to take executive action and automatically restore voting rights to ex-offenders, as they had urged governors in the past. The ACLU also advocated for most drug offenses to be classified as nonviolent, under the previous administration.

Earlier this year, a “Mobile Justice Tour,” hosted by the Advancement Project and other groups returned to Virginia to address the restoration of rights issue, among other things.

McAuliffe instructed his secretary of the commonwealth to review the restoration of rights policy and recommend ways to make it more “open and transparent,” according to McAuliffe’s office, and more changes could be in the works.

omeola@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6812 Twitter: @omeola

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