Monday, March 12, 2012
In the March 1 edition of the Mount Vernon Gazette, Jay Speigel criticized Del. Scott Surovell's support for a Republican Delegate's legislation to automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent ex-felons. Mr. Speigel should get his facts straight.
While we all may not agree on certain political issues and politicians are known to support and vote on most issues along party lines, in all fairness to Delegate Surovell, who supported HB16 to restore voting rights to certain individuals convicted of a felony, Delegate Surovell did not do so to be "radical."
Delegate Surovell recognized that denying certain felons the right to vote after paying his/her debt to society, that it’s the same tactic used under the Jim Crow era that granted voting rights only to white males who owned land. Although non-whites owned land, they were not afforded that right until the U.S. Constitution was amended.
Since the Jim Crow era, many states and the District of Columbia modified their permanent disbarment of voting rights for certain felons. Delegate Surovell is supporting such a bill. HB16 was a bill to amend and reenact § 53.1-231.2 of the Code of Virginia, relating to restoration of civil rights. It was not a bill to amend the U.S. Constitution. The bill does not extend the privilege to all felons. The bill is for a select group of non-violent felons who paid their debt to society, hold jobs, pay taxes and are productive members of the community.
Yes, there may be a few bad apples in the basket; but, you don’t discredit those who learned from their mistake, became model citizens and are active in their community.
Conditions may be placed on the bill restoring voting rights to felons. For example, one condition imposed by Maryland states that "if convicted of two or more such crimes, a person is not eligible to vote unless and until a pardon is obtained." The same could be a condition for Virginia felons.
Bottom line, the felon was judged by his/her peers who also applied the appropriate "punishment" for the felon. The Virginia governor did not have input into that process; however, the governor is the sole individual who determines whether or not the felon should have his/her voting rights restored. Should the governor deny the felon’s petition, there is no appeal process. Only the governor determines whether or not the felon was rehabilitated or should continue to pay for their mistake "unofficially" since the felon paid his/her debt to society according to the justice system. The governor may also impose additional requirements not previously a part of the petition process. For example, in addition to the current petition process, Governor McDonnell instituted new rules to include a "Details of Offense Letter."
Times have changed to include allowing women to vote and Congress lowering the voting age from 21-years to 18-years. So, the time may have come for Virginia to get rid of its Jim Crow law that permanently disbars the voting rights for certain felons.
Currently, Virginia and Kentucky are the only states that have permanent disbarment. Maine and Vermont are the only states that does not take away voting rights if convicted of any crime. The remaining states have some type of restoration of voting rights that does not rest solely with its governor. Once a certain felon's debt to society has been paid, his/her voting rights should be restored automatically.
Delegate Surovell’s support of HB16 should be viewed as eradicating remnants of a Jim Crow law and not as a radical or leftist action.