Gov. Bob McDonnell expedited the restoration of voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has built on the precedent. The state Senate has taken the next step.
The chamber has given first approval to a proposed constitutional amendment to make restoration automatic. Nonviolent felons would not need to apply for it.
Section 1 of Article II in the Virginia Constitution describes qualifications of voters. The amendment adds the italicized language to the text:
“In elections by the people, the qualifications of voters shall be as follows: Each voter shall be a citizen of the United States, shall be eighteen years of age, shall fulfill the residence requirements set forth in this section, and shall be registered to vote pursuant to this article. No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority. However, the General Assembly may by general law provide for the restoration of civil rights to persons who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies and who have completed service of their sentences, including any period or condition of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence, subject to the conditions, requirements, and definitions set forth in that law.”
The amendment promotes justice and encourages offenders who have paid their debts to society to resume normal citizenship.
Sens. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, and Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, sponsored the authorizing resolution that easily passed the threshold for constitutional amendments. As members of the House of Delegates, particularly Republicans, ponder restoration, may they be mindful of Mark Earley’s transformation. During his career as senator, attorney general and GOP gubernatorial nominee, Earley embraced the lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach to criminal justice. His years with the Prison Fellowship introduced him to a different perspective. Faith always had motivated Earley; he learned that faith has implications for crime and punishment. Forgiveness and mercy matter. Earley has embarked on a mission to atone for his previous record.
The Times-Dispatch once would have questioned the automatic restoration of voting rights for any felons. We now support automatic restoration for nonviolent felons. Debts paid are debts closed. If the amendment is submitted to the electorate, we will endorse ratification.
The progress on voting rights also suggests that citizens made the right choice when they elected Dance to succeed Henry Marsh in the 16th District. She earlier had survived Joe Morrissey’s attempt to purge her from the House of Delegates. Sometimes decency prevails.