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Many felons waiting on McDonnell for restoration of voting rights

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Darryl Williams checks the mail religiously; looking for that one official letter that he says will bring him a renewed sense of freedom.

He’s waiting on a letter from Governor McDonnell’s office that will determine whether or not his rights will be restored.

Williams said that a weapons possession charge back in his teenage years still haunts him. He now spends his days working to support his son and praying his restoration application will be approved soon.

"It would mean a whole lot. I would feel more like a citizen and I could do more. I could vote. I know how historic the last election was and I missed out,” added Williams.

Richard Walker was thrilled to get his restoration letter from Governor McDonnell back in March. That same day he completed all of the necessary paperwork to become a registered voter.

Now he helps others through his non-profit called Bridging the Gap in Virginia.  Walker said his organization has heard countless stories of felons who applied to have their rights restored and haven’t been given an answer by Governor McDonnell within the required sixty days.

A spokesperson with the Governor’s office says to date he has restored the right to vote for more than 3,500 felons. Jeff Caldwell said they’re on track to surpass past governors’ record in Virginia.

In recent years he says former Gov. Tim Kaine restored rights to 4,402 felons.  Mark Warner restored 3,486 and former Gov. George Allen restored the rights of 460 felons.

Caldwell said there’s no backlog now, but Gov. Bob McDonnell did face one when he came into office.

He said the office was inundated with restoration requests.

“The key to remember here is that there are many parts to an application that must be done by our office, by the courts. Once the application is turned in completed, we strive to make sure that they are notified and will know in enough time for the upcoming election,” added Caldwell.

“There are 350,000 convicted felons in Virginia that have not yet had their rights restored. This can be a major impact on voting and the elections, from national to state to local,” said Walker.

Walker said now his non-profit is gearing up for their next big push.  He’s joining forces with other voting rights organizations from across the Commonwealth and will hold a briefing on Capitol Square on Monday, Sept. 10 at 10:00 a.m. in the House Briefing Room.

That event is being organized by Advancement Project, a voting and civil rights organization. A spokesperson there said they will be backed by more than 50 state based agencies and groups at all six Virginia flagship universities and colleges.

Walker said he will join these groups as they call on the governor to take immediate action to approve the pending applications in time for them to meet the October 15 voter registration deadline.

He said they will make a plea to Governor McDonnell to speed up the process.

“I want to believe that they will get on top of the oldest applications that are 60 days or later in time for the election,” said Walker. “A lot of folks who haven’t haven't received the info from the Governor’s office have an earnest desire and should be able to vote come November.”

Caldwell said in the meantime applicants should know that the Governor is working as quickly as he can to review all of the restoration requests. He said they continue to ask for people to be patient.

“We also ask they be diligent and work with us, giving us any additional information we may ask for,” he said. “We are working as quickly as we can and we are going to get those responses out there in a 60 day period.”

“At this point we expect to do that. We’re cranking out dozens every week.”