RICHMOND, VA (WTVR) — In a historic move Tuesday, Governor Bob McDonnell vowed to speed up the restoration of voting rights in Virginia by offering automatic restoration to non-violent felons.
The criteria is that the non-violent felon must: complete their sentence, probation or parole; pay all court costs, fines, restitution, and completion of court-ordered conditions; and have no pending felony charges.
“This is what is great about the American Dream, the opportunity for second chances,” McDonnell said at an event at Ceder Street Baptist Church of God.
Presently Virginia is one of only a handle of states the take away the right to vote when a person is convicted of a felony. Under current law, non-violent offenders must wait two years before applying to have their rights restored.
The move was applauded by most Democrats statewide.
While many Republicans have been traditionally against moves like this, the Republican Party Nominee for Governor Ken Cuccinelli has endorsed the change.
“I got a big lump in my throat and I had to hold back tears,” Darrell Gooden, a convicted felon who was arrested for distribution in 2002, said.
Gooden will now re-apply to have his rights restored.
With new criteria for approving applications in place and more staff members, the process is expected to be swift and objective for the first time in Virginia history.
Gooden must apply himself because in order to have his rights back the state must know where a convicted felon lives. Individuals currently in prison or in jail will be granted automatic restoration following their departure from prison.
“Those from the past are a little bit harder because we don’t keep a uniformed record of conviction much less know where are they now,” Governor Bob McDonnell told CBS 6 political reporter Joe St. George.
McDonnell will work with advocacy groups to educate non-violent felons on how they can apply to have their rights restored.
The change does not affect violent felony offenders who must still wait five years before asking the state to restore their voting rights.