Virginia GOP’s oh-so-convenient electoral change of heart on voting rights for felons

Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced a plan this week that will streamline the process by which non-violent felons are given back their right to vote. The plan will also eliminate the two-year waiting period non-violent felons must currently endure before they are eligible for rights restoration.

While a step in the right direction, McDonnell isn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart.  He’s trying to help his party’s gubernatorial candidate, the very-far-right Ken Cuccinelli, win over moderates in the coming election.   And moderate have every reason not to trust Cuccinelli or McDonnell.

Virginia is currently one of four states that does not automatically restore felons’ right to vote.  Gov. McDonnell has, surprisingly for a Republican, restored more felons’ rights than any governor in Virginia history. Nevertheless, the 4,800 felons whose rights have been restored under Governor McDonnell are a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated 350,000 Virginia felons who have completed their sentences and remain ineligible to vote.

The governor’s change of heart comes on the heels of a report commissioned by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee to succeed Governor McDonnell in the next election (and a Tea Party firebrand), to help him pivot to the center for the upcoming general election (Cuccinelli is apparently worried that the majority of the voters might not agree with him about outlawing all oral sex, or with his running-mate E.W. Jackson who thinks the President is a Muslim, that Democrats are worse than the KKK, and that gays are pedophiles).

Voting booth via Shutterstock

Voting booth via Shutterstock

Despite Cuccinelli’s attempts to deflect the voters’ attention, it’s not clear he’s going to be successful wooing them on the voting-rights issue either. You see, as a member of Virginia’s state senate, Cuccinelli voted against a rights-restoration amendment to the state constitution five times between 2003 and 2009.

And therein lies the rub: The McDonnell/Cuccinelli plan falls short of amending the Virginia constitution, and will therefore allow fewer felons to become re-enfranchised than many had hoped. The Washington Post notes that the state has only been able to identify and locate 26,000 non-violent felons, and has committed no resources to finding more. Absent a constitutional amendment, McDonnell’s policy can only help the felons that the state tracks down, and so far that number remains at 7% of the total.

Moreover, McDonnelll’s policy pivot is non-binding and particular to his administration – it could be continued or ignored under a hypothetical Cuccinelli administration, after Cuccinelli shores up those moderate votes in the election.

And this is why I am worried about the sincerity of Cuccinelli’s commitment to voting rights, after he’s written so many downright scary things about the topic, and his overall philosophy of governance (e.g., making oral sex a crime).

As Mamie Locke, chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said Wednesday evening at an event for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, “Sinners are allowed back into the church, but not as the assistant pastor.” Voting rights have never been a priority for Ken Cuccinelli; this election-year shift may be a welcome victory for many, but I have a hard time believing its sincerity.

Cuccinelli assures us that he truly is sincere, and claims to have had a personal change of heart on the topic.  If by “personal” he means “electoral,” I’m inclined to believe him.


Jon Green is a senior Political Science major and Public Policy concentrator at Kenyon College. He is also the co-editor in chief of the Kenyon Observer, the school's student-run political journal. Jon worked as a field organizer for Tom Perriello in 2010 and recently returned to AMERICAblog from the Obama campaign, where he was a Deputy Regional Field Director based in Hampton, Virginia. He writes on a variety of topics but pays particularly close attention to elections, political psychology and the use of social media. Jon on Google+, and his .

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  • clarenceswinney

    SOCIAL SECURITY SOLVENT
    A new surplus of $28B takes the trust fund to $2.8 Trillion.
    That is enough to meet obligations through 2033 without raising the cap.
    The Medicare solvency has been extended to 2026.
    If we require millionaires and billionaires to pay their Fair share the total benefits can be paid for 75 years or longer. The wealthiest can, easily, afford it.
    An income of $10 million pays an effective 1% and it declines as you climb the Wealth ladder.
    In the past 30 years the wage growth has gone to those at the top of the wage distribution.
    We do not need the “Chained CPI” in social security.
    Nothing is more important to the mass of retirees than Medicare and Social Security.
    Restaurants are filled with retirees. Nothing does more to protect that dignity .

  • BillFromDover

    I can balance the cons and pros of this. For now, I’ll go with the cons.

  • cole3244

    laws that target minorities are another way for the gop to suppress votes for the dems, democracy is a foreign word to the cons.

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