Governor silent on felons’ voting rights, so law students speak up

Part 6 of 5 in the series Free to Vote in Virginia

By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

MUMS THE WORD: Despite Gov. McAuliffe’s silence on the Restoration of Rights issue, law students at William and Mary have decided to take action.

PURCELLVILLE, Va. — Gov. Terry McAuliffe so far has been quiet about restoring voting rights for felons, but students in the law school at William & Mary College are stepping in.

The students have launched a project, Revive My Vote, to help eligible felons navigate the process of applying to have their voting rights automatically restored. It’s a 24/7 hotline, staffed by 20 student volunteers and overseen by a group of practicing attorneys.

The group decided to launch last week to get the internal process in order before the November election, said Rebecca Green, co-director of the election law program at William & Mary.

The response from the public has been positive, and the students have taken a steady stream of calls, she said.

The group was initially concerned that McAuliffe would alter the restoration process.

“In November, (when McAuliffe won the gubernatorial election) we weren’t sure if the process would be simplified,” she said.

Despite campaign promises to build off progress by former Gov. Bob McDonnell to automatically restore rights to non-violent felons, McAuliffe so far has remained reticent on the issue. He has made no formal announcement that he would continue the automated process.

But the restoration of rights page on the governor’s website hasn’t been changed or updated since McAuliffe took office, and a woman who answered the number listed on that site confirmed the process is the same.

“There’s been no word from the McAuliffe administration for plans to ramp up processing of applications,” said Green of William & Mary.

“The process is completely discretionary, there are no records on how many applicants there have been total and how many of those have been denied restoration.”

An accurate or comprehensive database of eligible felons doesn’t exist, so felons must identify themselves to the governor to be considered for automated processing.

The only method of verifying a felon’s identity with their court case is by date of birth, which the court records have botched, Green said.

“The court records are such a mess,” Green said. “The age has been totally off. In some cases, it has listed people as being 8 or 10 years old.”

Contact Bre Payton at bpayton@watchdog.org or follow her on Twitter @Bre_payton.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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