McDonnell proposes new step to restoration of rights process

By Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The McDonnell Administration wants to get a little more personal with some felons who wish to have their voting rights restored. They may soon have to write a letter explaining what happened. That decision is not sitting well with some. The letter would be in addition to the usual paperwork involved. The Governor is proposing non-violent offenders write a letter providing additional information about their situations.

Right now, the short form those offenders have to fill out only asks for the offense and sentence, and the dates of conviction, sentencing and release from probation. The McDonnell Administration said the new step gives a more complete picture.

Non-violent felons serve their time. They go three years with a clean record and then can apply to get their rights restored. The form they have to submit is just one page long. Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Polarek said she needs more information. She told NBC12 having those former felons submit a letter shows them a person, not just a couple facts.

"There was no information about what happened, the mitigating factors, the circumstances surrounding it, how young the person was, what they were going through at the time, none of those factors are in the file," she said. "So that's why we thought it was important to give applicants a voice."

But several felons' rights groups have come out against the move, saying it will only make the process take longer.

"We shouldn't be putting any hurdles up," said Virginia Interfaith Center Executive Director Doug Smith. "We should really be trying to get those who have paid their debt to society back incorporated and back integrated into their communities."

Polarek insisted having all the information in one place will actually make restoration faster. She also said if felons cannot write the letter themselves, a lawyer can help or that person can actually call her office.

Hasan Zarif's rights were restored on August 6, 2007. He told us there's one piece of information crucial to the discussion.

"Just that they have taken care of the problem, whatever the problem was and the Governor knows it's not going to be a problem in the future," he said.

This is not a done deal. Secretary Polarek said her office will meet with stake holders to get feedback before the procedures are finalized. McDonnell has received 250 applications since taking office. There are also 650 applications leftover from the Kaine administration.

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