- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2008

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has granted voting rights to nearly 1,500 felons this year, bumping up the voter rolls ahead of next month’s presidential election and putting himself on pace to exceed the record-setting pattern of his predecessor.

During his four years as governor, Mark Warner, a Democrat now running for the U.S. Senate, restored voting rights to 3,414 ex-convicts in Virginia. That exceeded the combined total for all Virginia governors during the previous 20 years, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat in the third year of his term, had restored voting rights to 2,633 people with felony convictions as of Monday, including 1,445 this year.

“It’s not something that was just handed to him,” Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said. “He believes in it.”

Felons in 38 of the 50 states and the District automatically regain their voting rights once they have completed their prison terms or completed any parole. Two states - Maine and Vermont - permit convicts to vote while imprisoned.

Eight states - Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming - deprive felons of their voting rights for life in certain circumstances such as the nature of the crime. Only in Virginia and Kentucky are all felons disenfranchised for life unless the governor restores those rights.

Voter registration in Virginia is of special significance this year because the presidential campaigns of Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama consider the state crucial for victory.

Though Virginia has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, Democrats have been winning an increasing number of state elections. Polls in the past week have been divided: Three show Mr. Obama ahead by three to nine points and two show Mr. McCain ahead by three.

Mr. Kaine is a strong supporter of Mr. Obama, whose campaign has set a goal of registering tens of thousands of voters prior to the election. Virginia has recorded a net increase of more than 306,000 voters since the beginning of the year, according to statistics released Wednesday by the State Board of Elections.

Mr. Hickey said the secretary of the commonwealth announced earlier this year, as a “heads-up,” that felons in Virginia eligible for restoration must have their applications submitted by Aug. 1 in order to have their rights restored by Monday’s voter registration deadline.

The application-review process normally takes at least six months, according to the secretary’s Web site (www.soc.state.va.us). Felons who met the Aug. 1 deadline could see that process shortened to two months.

Mr. Hickey said the governor’s efforts this year are not targeted.

“It wasn’t like anybody solicited people to put these things in,” Mr. Hickey said.

Still, Republican lawmakers say efforts to register felons, including those by the American Civil Liberties Union, serve as a means to garner more votes for Mr. Obama.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William County Republican and chairman of the state party, said Mr. Kaine has a “prerogative” to restore felons’ voting rights and he thinks the governor “sincerely wants to give people their rights back so they can have them.”

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