- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Nonviolent felons may apply to have their voting rights restored more quickly and easily under a streamlined policy announced yesterday by Gov. Mark R. Warner.
"When an offender has served his full sentence and demonstrated he can be a law-abiding citizen, he deserves an efficient and fair process for restoring his most basic right," Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said.
"For too many years, applications for restoring voting rights have languished without official action. In my administration, applicants will receive a decision, one way or another, within a reasonable period of time."
The previous process, adopted in 1990, permitted ex-felons convicted of drug offenses to apply for a restoration of voting rights seven years after completing a sentence and any probation, parole or supervised release. For all other ex-felons, the mandated wait was five years.
The old application process was cumbersome, requiring completion of a 13-page application, along with certified court documents, a letter from a parole or probation officer, and three letters of reference. Applications often lingered for years with no official action.
Under Mr. Warner's new policy, which takes effect tomorrow, anyone convicted of nonviolent offenses may apply for a restoration of voting rights three years after completing his or her sentence, suspended sentence, probation, parole or supervised release. The application will be reduced to one page, and no letters or documents will be required.
The state will continue to perform a criminal background check on all applicants.
All applicants will receive a decision from the governor within six months of submitting a completed application. Applicants who meet the time requirement, have not been convicted of any offense since the original conviction and have no pending felony or misdemeanor charges will have their voting rights restored after going through the application process.
The five-year waiting period and the previous application process, including the court documents and letters of reference, still will be required of those convicted of violent crimes, drug distribution offenses and voting fraud.
Mr. Warner's revised policy is consistent with recent proposals made by the Virginia State Crime Commission, said state Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican and chairman of the commission, which has studied the issue of the restoration of voting rights.
"The governor has taken an important step in streamlining the process for ex-offenders to regain the right to vote," Mr. Stolle said.
State Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat and longtime supporter of voting rights for nonviolent felons who have served their time, called the policy a "significant improvement over past practices."
"Although I would prefer to totally eliminate the waiting period for nonviolent felons, the governor's new policy is a step in the right direction," Mr. Marsh said.
Virginia is one of 14 states in which an individual may be disenfranchised for life after a felony conviction, according to a crime commission report.

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