- The Washington Times - Friday, April 29, 2005

Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine would carry on Gov. Mark Warner’s record-setting pace in restoring voting rights to felons, his campaign said yesterday.

Mr. Kaine, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, would govern in a manner similar to Mr. Warner, who has restored rights to 2,157 felons since taking office in 2002 — more than the previous four governors combined.

Kaine spokesman Jeff Kraus said the lieutenant governor thinks Mr. Warner has made voting-rights restoration “more accessible, more accountable and more consistent.”

Mr. Warner has streamlined the petition process and put petitions online. “We support the reforms Mark Warner has made and that’s the way we would move forward,” Mr. Kraus said yesterday.

Virginia is one of six states that permanently bars felons from voting, holding public office and serving on juries unless a governor restores those rights.

Jerry W. Kilgore, who resigned as attorney general to seek the Republican nomination, would ask for input from victims while reviewing each petition on a case-by-case basis, campaign spokesman Tucker Martin said.

“He will restore the rights to individuals who he believes have rehabilitated themselves and are prepared to take on the responsibility of having their civil rights restored,” Mr. Martin said.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. said he would review each petition carefully and “if there was a doubt in my mind, I would lean toward not granting them,” he said.

“My style would be to look at every single case in a very deliberate fashion and come down on side of cautiousness,” said Mr. Potts, Winchester Republican who is running as an independent in November.

Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, who will face Mr. Kilgore in the June 14 Republican primary, would only say through a spokesman that he will uphold state law.

Virginia law bars governors from seeking second terms, and Mr. Warner will leave office in January.

Civil rights groups this week announced the Virginia Voter Restoration Initiative, aiming to get the rights of 10,000 felons restored.

“My objective is to get all the individuals in the pipeline before Mark Warner is gone,” said Sandra Brandt, one of the project’s organizers. “We would like to see the person who is elected follow suit and do what Warner has done.”

About 700,000 felons are eligible to have their rights restored in Virginia, but state law prohibits them from ever being allowed to possess a firearm or carry a concealed weapon.

Political scientists and researchers said felons are disproportionately black and tend to vote Democratic.

Efforts to restore rights automatically in Virginia and other states have been supported largely by Democrats. However, President Bush signed into law a Texas initiative to automatically restore rights to felons when he was governor.

Ryan King, a research associate for the Sentencing Project, a District-based criminal-justice advocacy group, said the inconsistency in policy from governor to governor is troubling.

“One governor comes in and uses it frequently, another governor could come in on the next term and completely turn the process off entirely,” he said. “For a person who is looking to have rights restored, there is a great deal of uncertainty.”

Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said the governor reviews each petition and the process is not automatic.

One reason for the increase in approvals was a backlog of 732 requests — some more than four years old — that Mr. Warner inherited when he took office, Mr. Hall said. The backlog has been cleared.

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