RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Prisoners in Virginia who want to vote again and have other civil rights restored will have to write to Gov. Bob McDonnell about their crime, their rehabilitation and how they've contributed to society since doing their time.
A draft proposal by McDonnell's administration would compel felons who want their rights back to tell the governor their story.
The American Civil Liberties Union accused the Republican governor Monday of imposing upon convicts the same Jim Crow tactic used to prevent black people from voting.
"The Governor appears to have reinstated the literacy test in Virginia," Virginia ACLU executive director Kent Willis said in a statement.
For people with little education, Willis said, requiring an essay explaining presents an unfair hurdle to regaining rights to vote, serve on juries and own guns, things the law prohibits felons who have not been pardoned or had their rights reinstated.
In Virginia, only governors can restore felons' rights.
Legislative efforts to give felons other ways to regain their rights have repeatedly failed. McDonnell, in his 2009 campaign for governor, promised to streamline the process and render decisions within 90 days. Some have lingered for many months or even years.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Polarek said a proposal that prisoners write the governor a detailed letter was a draft of a one considered several weeks ago. She rejected the characterization of it as an essay.
Her office oversees the policy change and she is one of four administration officials who would sign off on a rights restoration request recommendation before it is sent to the governor.
She said the final proposal will be similar to the process Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner used from 2002 into 2006 in vetting felons' applications for rights restoration. Warner required violent and nonviolent offenders to complete and submit a form outlining basics of the offense, punishment and rehabilitation. Warner's successor and McDonnell's predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, required forms only of violent offenders.
Polarek said the proposal, still under review, would require more and clearer information, particularly about the offense. That's necessary to move the requests along and meet McDonnell's pledged 90-day timeline, and it's most likely to be an expanded form, not a separate letter, she said.
"It will additional information to help us streamline the process," Polarek said.
"Now, it just lists the crime. Like uttering. I didn't even know what uttering was," she said. "I want something that says, 'I wrote a bad check.'"
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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