The change was welcome news for Darrell Gooden of Richmond, who was convicted of marijuana and cocaine possession in 2002. He said he applied to regain his rights in 2008, when Democrat Tim Kaine was governor, but was turned down because of a speeding ticket. He hasn’t reapplied, and now he won’t have to.
“I want my children to see that the American dream is not just a dream,” the 40-year-old father of three said.
Attempts to amend the constitution to allow the blanket automatic restoration of nonviolent felons’ rights have failed repeatedly, most recently in the 2013 General Assembly. The constitutional amendment, historically championed by Democrats, was backed by the Republican governor and attorney general this year but was rejected by the heavily GOP House of Delegates.
The ACLU of Virginia praised McDonnell for further expediting the rights restoration process.
“The governor will be giving voice to thousands of Virginians who have been denied participation in elections due to an antiquated and regressive voting law in the commonwealth,” ACLU of Virginia board president Jayne Barnard said in a news release.
Virginia New Majority, an advocacy group, said it would follow up McDonnell’s policy change – which is effective July 15 – with a voter registration drive.
“We’re going to celebrate today, but we have to get right back to work tomorrow,” said Jon Liss, the group’s executive director. “We’re making plans to ensure that people with nonviolent felony convictions will be registered in time for the November elections.”
Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, lauded McDonnell “for pushing his own reforms even further.”
“We needed to simplify the process for those who want to regain their civil rights so they can return to full participation in society,” he said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe called the change “an important step forward on an issue of justice for Virginians who have paid their debt to society.”
McDonnell said he expects the next governor to keep his new policy.