Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe | Joseph Sohm, Shutterstock

Virginia governor: Most felons with new rights are nonviolent

In an effort to rebut Republican criticism of his April 22 executive order, restoring certain civil rights to as many as 206,000 ex-convicts, Gov. Terry McAuliffe released a statistical review showing the vast majority of those felons served time for nonviolent crimes.

"More than 79 percent of the people whose rights were restored were convicted of felonies that were nonviolent in nature," according to a study assembly from data provided by the Virginia Department of Corrections and the Virginia Compensation Board.

Republicans were not impressed.

In a press release, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said the review contained "unverified data," and "in no way excuses his [Gov. McAuliffe's] reckless decision to restore the civil rights of violent offenders and flagrant violation of the Constitution."

Under Article II, Section 1 of Virginia's Constitution, "No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority."

Under Article V, Section, 12, however, Virginia's governors are given the power to restore rights to those convicted of crimes, with the additional requirement that a governor inform the General Assembly of the "particulars of every case" and his reasons for restoring those rights.

On May 2, House and Senate Republicans retained Charles Cooper, chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Cooper & Kirk, to represent them in a potential lawsuit challenging McAuliffe's order.

The McAuliffe administration study is based on 163,370 "matches" within Department of Corrections and Compensation Board databases. The Administration said that due to "migrations to newer database systems," its study does not cover the entire population of former felons the Administration cited as qualified for rights restoration.

According to the study, 51.5 percent of the former felons covered are white, while 45.9 percent are black.

The Administration used this figure to support its case that felon disenfranchisement falls disproportionately on African-Americans.

"Black Virginians accounted for 45.9 percent of the disenfranchised population although the 2010 census data indicate that African Americans compose just 19.4 percent of the Commonwealth’s entire population," according to the study.

In his statement, Howell avoided the race issue, and focused on the violent felons included in the data.

"The Governor's office should release whatever information they have on these 40,000 violent offenders," Howell said.

"We have publicly called on the Governor to release this information. Media members have made numerous requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. If the information is of no consequence as the administration suggests, then there is absolutely no reason not to release it to the public."

None of the data released Wednesday provides details on the types of crimes committed or the identities of those who qualify for rights restoration.

The Governor's office has said such information is confidential, and not subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The Administration's study noted that the final tally of released felons who qualify under the Governor's order "is not all-encompassing," and could be much larger than the initial 206,000 estimate.

"[The study] does not include federal data or information on people who were convicted in other states before completing their terms and moving to Virginia."

"Additionally, any individuals whose records raise questions about their identities due to aliases, multiple similar entries or mistaken vital information (like Social Security numbers) have been withheld from the list," according to the Administration.