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Gov. McDonnell discusses restoration of rights at TCC Portsmouth

Gov. Bob McDonnell visited Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus on Tuesday, pledging to restore the voting rights of 10,000 nonviolent ex-felons before the end of his term in January.

McDonnell, who announced on May 29 that the state would implement an automatic voting restoration process to those who meet specific criteria, asked for the help of stakeholders and advocacy groups in advancing a goal he said is critical to keeping recidivism low. Since the change that removed the lengthy bureaucratic process for restoring rights went into effect on July 15, approximately 5,400 nonviolent felons have had their rights restored.

Because Virginia does not have a centralized, unified database before 1995, McDonnell’s administration faces the logistical challenge of locating thousands of ex-felons.

“Real lives are at stake,” he said before an audience that included Del. Matthew James (D-Portsmouth), Provost Michelle Woodhouse and numerous local advocates who work with former felons. “Outreach is one of the key pieces missing. I think we’ve turned the corner and changed the culture. It’s going to take constant advocacy to keep it that way.”

McDonnell signed an executive order on May 29 that automatically restores civil rights to offenders who complete their sentence, probation or parole; pay all courts costs, fines and restitution; complete all court-ordered conditions; and have no pending felony charges. Once the administration verifies the nonviolent felon has complied with all conditions, the governor sends a letter restoring rights.

“We’re a nation of second chances,” McDonnell said. “When I ran for governor, I pledged to institute the fairest and fastest voting restoration of rights process in Virginia history. We have approved more applications for the restoration of rights than any prior administration. We are acting on completed applications in 60 days or less, far quicker than prior efforts.”

In addition to discussing the significance of voting and civil rights, McDonnell lauded Virginia’s community colleges as being revolutionary. “In the last two years, we have had more people graduate from community colleges in Virginia than four-year universities,” he said. “It’s about one third of the cost; the skill sets that are being generated are terrific. If you get good grades the first two years, you can go to a four-year university. The role of a community college is continuing to grow, and you’ve done a great job of keeping tuition low.”