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More progress on rights restoration

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By Landmark News Service

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell raised the bar for restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons who served their sentences, far outpacing his predecessors’ efforts.
By the time he left office, the Republican had streamlined one of the most cumbersome state systems in the U.S. and given 8,137 people the ability to vote, serve on a jury, work as a notary public and run for public office.
His successor, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has maintained that momentum in his first three months in office, restoring rights to 838 people as of last week.
Those results, as promising as they may be, still pale in comparison to the scope of the population — estimated at 350,000 Virginians, most of them minorities — affected by the commonwealth’s laws requiring executive approval for rights restoration.
Changes announced recently by McAuliffe’s office should further accelerate the pace by which former offenders are fully integrated back into society.
The overhaul includes removal of all drug-related crimes from the list of offenses that require a waiting period and application after a person has completed his sentence. Violent offenders who’ve completed their sentences will be required to wait three years — instead of five — before they are eligible to apply for their rights to be restored.
“Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible,” McAuliffe said.
Continuing to punish and ostracize former offenders, even after they’ve paid their debt to society and abided by the direction of the judicial system, runs counter to notions of fair punishment.
Worse, it makes all of us less safe, as former offenders continue to find themselves excluded from important elements of civil society.
Reducing barriers to restore former offenders’ voting rights allows them to more fully rejoin their community and participate in society after they’ve paid their penalty. That’s good public policy, but more importantly, it’s justice.

This editorial originally was published in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.