Warner First in America in Restoring Felons' Rights; Thousands to Apply as Term Ends

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

Warner First in America in Restoring Felons' Rights; Thousands to Apply as Term Ends


Byline: Christina Bellantoni, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who has returned voting rights to more felons than any other governor in state history, also leads the nation in restoring felons' rights.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, has restored the rights to 2,157 felons since taking office in January 2002 and has denied the requests of 134 felons.

Among governors of the 14 states that deny voting rights to felons, Mr. Warner has restored more voting rights than any other chief executive, according to a report from the Sentencing Project, a District-based criminal-justice advocacy group.

"When you look at the number of recent restorations from other governors, there's nobody who is really even close," said Ryan King, research associate for the Sentencing Project. "Governor Warner has been at the forefront of really using his restoration powers responsibly and quite frequently."

Several grass-roots organizations yesterday announced a campaign to aid 10,000 convicted Virginia felons who want to vote again. The coalition of groups, based in Virginia and in the District, will urge Mr. Warner to restore the right to vote to thousands of eligible petitioners before he leaves office in January.

"Right now, we're making a major push," said Sandra Brandt, one leader of the effort. "We see the opportunity with Governor Warner. It's time - this is the time to really put some pressure on to try to get it done."

Felons who have their rights restored are allowed to vote, run for and hold public office and serve on juries. They cannot possess a firearm or carry a concealed weapon.

In Virginia, a felon loses voting rights permanently unless the governor restores them. Only five other states also deny felons rights for life. Virginia is one of 14 states that do not automatically restore voting rights upon release from prison.

The voting rights coalition, called the Virginia Voter Restoration Initiative, has established a toll-free number - 800/388-6744 - for felons who want their rights restored and aims to get 10,000 felons to submit petitions to the governor by Aug. 31. If Mr. Warner grants the petitions, the felons will be eligible to vote in the November gubernatorial election.

"This is going to be a mammoth task," said Ms. Brandt, who is executive director of Norfolk-based STEP-UP Inc., a nonprofit which helps freed felons get jobs. …

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