Bob McDonnellVirginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell has made a decision that may cost him partisan support. The Republican leader – who’s also responsible for the now-defunct vaginal ultrasound bill – has disclosed a plan to automatically restore voting rights for nonviolent felons in Virginia.

Virginia is currently one of only four states where voting rights are not automatically granted after a full sentence is served. In the current system, felons have to wait two-years and then petition McDonnell to restore their rights.

Though the process is cumbersome, McDonnell has restored more voting rights than any other governor. He hopes his decision will make the process easier.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

The McDonnell administration says it does not know how many felons in Virginia have completed their sentences, because there is no comprehensive database.

McDonnell’s change applies only to nonviolent felons. Under current procedures, there is a two-year waiting period before a nonviolent felon can apply for restoration of rights. Under the current process, the governor does not have to approve any particular application.

McDonnell is removing the waiting period and the subjectivity. Once the administration verifies that a nonviolent felon has completed his sentence and probation or parole, and paid all fines and restitution, the governor will send the person a letter restoring his rights, provided the individual has no pending felony charges.

The governor also is removing a restriction in the current system that precludes anyone from being eligible to have his rights restored if he has had a conviction for driving under the influence in the past five years.

The timetable for restoring rights will depend on how many nonviolent felons the state must process, Kelly said. She noted that between now and July 15 her office will process its current applications using the new criteria, “so it should go very quickly.”

The process for people convicted of violent felonies will be unchanged. They will continue to have a five-year waiting period and must submit an application for review by the governor.

The change for nonviolent felons, coming in the final year of the governor’s term, caps a years-long effort by McDonnell to streamline the restoration process in Virginia, a state in which only the governor can restore a felon’s civil rights.

Administration officials said McDonnell, a former prosecutor, believes in punishment, but he also believes in redemption and opportunity.

“In many ways it’s the culmination of a career of effort to fix this issue in Virginia,” said J. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for McDonnell.

Virginia voters support McDonnell’s decision. A Quinnipiac University poll found 71 percent of voters support the restoration of voting rights.

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