In April Governor McAuliffe purported to restore the political rights of over 206,000 convicted felons. Governor McAuliffe’s unprecedented and unconstitutional executive order granted en bloc the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for public office, and serve as a notary public automatically to violent felony offenders. Since the announcement, we’ve seen revelation after revelation about the mistakes the Governor’s office made.
The Washington Post first reported on mistakes detailing violent felony offenders who have not completed their sentencing, yet had their political rights restored.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) mistakenly restored the right to vote to several violent felons currently in prison or on supervised probation, as part of his sweeping clemency order, records show. Among the 206,000 felons who were awarded voting rights are some high-profile killers whose crimes shocked their small communities.
A few days later, The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that an alleged cop killer was trying to use McAuliffe’s executive order to fill his jury with convicted felons.
The defense team for the man accused of killing Virginia State Police trooper Junius A. Walker in Dinwiddie County three years ago wants felons whose rights were recently restored by the governor to be considered as eligible candidates for jury duty when Russell E. Brown III stands trial in July.
This situation was not unique to Dinwiddie. A similar case arose in Augusta County.
…attorney Tripp Franklin III in the case of Douglas C. Broce, a Stuarts Draft man who was scheduled for a jury trial Friday in a child molestation case. In the motion, Franklin sought access to juror questionnaires following the governor’s recent order restoring certain civil rights to convicted felons, including their right to serve on a jury. Franklin was concerned that some felons were excluded from the jury pool.
Then the Washington post reported that Governor McAuliffe’s executive order makes it easier for violent felons to possess firearms again.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s order last month restoring the voting rights of 206,000 felons had an unintended consequence: It’s now easier for those ex-offenders to regain the right to own guns. Before the order, felons who wanted to legally possess firearms first had to go through the process of having their civil rights reinstated, including the right to vote, to sit on a jury and to run for office. That process — which involved submitting forms that were scrutinized by the secretary of the commonwealth’s staff, using the governor’s authority — is no longer in place. Instead, felons who have completed their sentences can go straight to the step of petitioning the circuit court for firearm rights.
The Richmond Times Dispatch also reported on how Governor McAuliffe’s order expedites the process to obtain a firearm.
Because felons who want to own guns must regain their political rights first, the governor’s order greatly expanded the number of people eligible to seek restoration of their firearm rights…McAuliffe’s order gives nonviolent and violent offenders alike the paperwork they need to try to regain their gun rights in court.
A review of Richmond-area court records found at least 11 cases of felons, some convicted of violent crimes or gun offenses, using McAuliffe’s order as grounds for restoration of their firearm rights.
The Roanoke Times published an article mentioning three gang members in federal prison had received their rights back.
Botetourt County Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom found the state was listing three people linked to a violent Roanoke Valley gang who are all still in federal prison as having had their rights restored.
Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney repeatedly referred to the order as overturning a “Jim Crow-era law.” But PolitiFact ruled this statement false.
Stoney said Virginia’s banning of felons from voting is a “Jim Crow-era law.”
The ban was written into Virginia’s constitution in 1830, almost a half-century before the era began. Only white men could vote then, so contrary to Stoney’s assertion, the law couldn’t have been designed to keep blacks from voting.
The ban was retained in redrafts of Virginia’s constitution that were adopted during and after Jim Crow days.
We rate Stoney’s statement False.
Then another shocking report from The Washington Post revealed that 132 of Virginia’s worst sex offenders who are committed civilly to the state received their political rights.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s sweeping order to restore voting rights to ex-felons may have had another unintended consequence: giving the right to vote to at least 132 sex offenders who have finished their sentences but remain locked up because they have been deemed too dangerous to release.
After denying that the 132 offenders received their rights back, Governor McAuliffe is attempting to delete their names from list, in what a Commonwealth’s Attorney calls a cover up.
State officials abruptly removed 132 sex offenders from Virginia’s list of eligible voters last week, reacting to the latest problem emerging from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s sweeping move to restore voting rights to felons who had served out their sentences.
A local prosecutor contends there was no mistake. She says state officials changed the records to try to hide a politically awkward accident — that McAuliffe inadvertently restored voting rights to some of Virginia’s worst sexual predators.
“This is a cover-up, plain and simple,” Nottoway County Commonwealth’s Attorney Terry J. Royall said. “They’ve cleaned up the database.”
Editorial boards across the Commonwealth have called out Governor McAuliffe’s mistakes in recent weeks.
Roanoke Times: Our view: The question we ought to ask about restoring civil rights
Some say the devil is in the details. Others insist that God is in the details. Whichever version you prefer, this much is clear: The staff of Gov. Terry McAuliffe was not in the details when the governor signed his executive order restoring civil rights to 206,000 people convicted of felonies.
The order was intended to apply to those who have completed their sentence and their supervised release period. As we now know, at least a few of those people covered by the governor’s order are, um, still in prison.
McAuliffe brushes this off as mere “data entry problems.” Republicans, of course, have a very different view. “Overall, this is just a stunning level of incompetence and recklessness,” said Speaker of the House Bill Howell, R-Stafford County.
Still, the embarrassing details of just who made the governor’s list obviously give Republicans a second political argument to make — the governor wasn’t just wrong, he was incompetent.
We agree with the governor: With all those names and all those bits of information, there were bound to be errors.
Which is precisely the reason not to approve restoration of rights in mass.
It was extremely important for the McAuliffe administration to get this right — both for the comfort and safety of Virginians who might be serving on juries with violent felons, for instance; as well as for the governor, who should have known that his foes would pounce on even on small errors.
He and his staff blundered.
Easy to do under the circumstances?
Yes. Which is why restoration of rights should be handled in smaller, manageable increments.
What nobody could possibly endorse was the shoddy nature of the administration’s work in preparing for the restoration or its imperial denial of reasonable requests for release of the names of the new Virginia voters.
McAuliffe refusal remains an unaccountable violation of fundamental open records principles. It’s not the only problem. As has become increasingly clear, McAuliffe’s administration didn’t do the basic research necessary to ensure that it restored rights only to those who served their time and repaid their debt.
Such appalling incompetence could’ve been prevented by the simplest due diligence of checking names against state records. The fact that nobody did it calls into question every entry on the governor’s list, assuming one exists.
Richmond Times Dispatch: Why the secrecy on felons?
The governor’s lofty rhetoric about returning ex-cons to full citizenship notwithstanding, he didn’t want to increase felon access to guns. But he clearly didn’t think through the implications of his executive order. “My action, I didn’t think it had anything to do with gun rights,” he said not long ago. Oops. Now 206,000 felons are much closer to regaining their gun rights, but McAuliffe won’t say who they are. On Friday, the public learned they include some particularly infamous killers.
The issue is whether the McAuliffe administration should release the list of people affected by what has been an extremely controversial decision. There are many valid reasons to, including the value of transparency generally and the keen interest in the topic among the public. What sort of reason does the governor’s office have to keep the list secret?
To many observers, us included, the case seems cut-and-dried: While the state constitution, as revised over the centuries, gives the executive branch the authority to restore said rights on an individual basis, it does not provide for any such blanket restoration.
The inconvenient evidence? The prohibition on felons voting was initially introduced in 1830 — years before Jim Crow — when only white men could vote. So it appears the McAuliffe Gang is not only wrong — loud wrong — about the constitutional provision itself, but also when it was instituted. And yet they keep on chattering, compounding their dishonesty.
The Daily Progress: Civil rights arguments are layered
In one way, prosecutors will be doing the kind of background work that the governor’s staff did not do — and that caused them to “restore” rights to several felons still in prison and to some offenders who remain in high-security mental health facilities because of their danger to the community. We agree that shifting the workload to local prosecutors amounts to yet another unfunded mandate from Richmond. Increasing these burdens without adequate funding is wrong.
One hundred and thirty-two of the individuals held at the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation are listed as having had their voting and jury rights restored.
The administration’s response? “This is yet another partisan attempt to spread misinformation and hysteria.”
No, this is yet another indication the administration was so busy ordering a halo and angel wings for the governor that it failed to perform the due diligence a move of this magnitude requires. Had the governor gone to the General Assembly and proposed revoking the state’s ban on felons voting — and in principle revoking the ban is the right thing to do — issues like these could have been given the careful airing they deserve. But McAuliffe preferred instead to make a big political splash. Mission accomplished.
Still, the governor’s office’s handling of the matter appears to have been sloppy. He and his staff clearly should have done a better job vetting the 206,000 people getting back these rights…
Here’s one thing that needs to happen, and soon: The public release of all the names of felons who have gotten their voting rights back.
There’s an urgent need for those outside the governor’s office — including prosecutors, the media and others — to raise questions about whether those on the list are properly there.
But so far, the administration has refused to release that list. First, they said it was a private voter registration record. Now they contend it’s a governor’s “working paper,” exempt from mandatory release under the state’s open records law.
That’s ludicrous on its face.
“Working papers” are documents specifically created for use in deliberation and decision-making. This list, by contrast, reflects the result of the governor’s official act.
Though the administration says the full list will be provided to the General Assembly next year — post election — as part of an annual report on clemencies, that’s not enough. Gov. McAuliffe’s office must come clean — now and in detail — about how it checked that those on the list have in fact served all their time…
The governor should release this list — and soon — so that these problems can be fixed before Election Day. This will help provide an air of legitimacy to whatever our voters decide.