June 6th, 2016 Newsletter

The Supreme Court of Virginia will hold a special session July 19 to take up the Republican challenge to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s order that restored voting rights for more than 200,000 felons. Republican leaders in the General Assembly had sought to have the case heard as early as next month. The matter should be decided by Aug. 25 at the latest to avoid “casting doubt on the legitimacy” of the November elections.

The McAuliffe administration has refused to release the list of the 206,000 felons, saying that state election law exempts from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act individual records maintained in the state’s voter registration system.

The governor signed his first monthly renewal of the order Tuesday, which added about 1,200 more ex-offenders who met the criteria between April 22 and April 30. The governor has said he will update the order on a rolling basis because he cannot create a fully automatic rights-restoration process. According to the secretary of the commonwealth’s office, which oversees the rights-restoration process, McAuliffe intends to sign another order in mid-June that will cover the entire month of May.

As of Wednesday morning, 5,816 people had registered to vote as a result of the governor’s order, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Governor Terry McAuliffe “mistakenly” restore the political rights of violent criminals, including murderers, rapists and child predators.

The story highlighted five cases, including individuals who are still in prison, on probation or awaiting trial for other charges. One man whose rights were restored was convicted in 2014 for a 30-year-old cold case murder. He is serving a life sentence in West Virginia on other charges.

This is stunning recklessness and incompetence. This is a bombshell report. It’s very hard to overstate the importance of this story. The Governor restored the rights of violent criminals – even some who are still in prison. This is inexcusable. They were so eager to get this done, they didn’t even do their due diligence.

The Governor’s office blamed “clerical errors” for the mistake and chided prosecutors for not bringing the errors to the Governor before they went to the press. I’d ask how many prosecutors did the Governor call before he issued his order?  When it comes to justice, the margin for error is small. Victims don’t get do-overs. Juries don’t get to come back and say they made a clerical error.

Even worse still, the Governor’s office is apparently relying on the honor system. They want felons who don’t qualify to call their office if their rights have been restored. There has to be some accountability. The Governor himself needs to address these revelations.

The full list needs to be released. If they won’t do their due diligence, they need to release the list so prosecutors can do theirs more easily.

This proves exactly why the clemency process has always been an individualized process. You don’t have these mistakes when you look at individuals on a case by case basis. And the Governor would have to be accountable for the mistakes he did make. He could not brush them aside as clerical errors.

If you have any concerns, questions, comments or issues that I or my Aide, Jenna, can help you with, please contact us at (434) 821-5929 or email at Delmfariss@house.virginia.gov. You can also keep up with me on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.

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