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Governor Kaine Denied my Right to Vote Because of Traffic Tickets

by: frankoanderson

Mon Dec 28, 2009 at 16:44:47 PM EST

( - promoted by kindler)

If you believe that convicted felons should be denied the right to vote for the rest of their lives, then there is no point for you to read any further.  Most Virginians who have done voter registration are aware that our state (along with Kentucky) permanently bars convicted felons from voting, unless their rights are restored by the Governor.  There is an application process, set up by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, which I went through.  I never thought it would be so difficult.
frankoanderson :: Governor Kaine Denied my Right to Vote Because of Traffic Tickets
In 1998 I committed a burglary - a non-violent, non-drug related crime for which I served two years and two months in prison.  Since that time I have completed probation, paid all my fines, held steady jobs, not been convicted of any other crimes, volunteered on numerous Democratic campaigns in Virginia (starting with Kaine for Governor), registered hundreds of voters and earned my associate's degree.  Through my work in voter registration, I learned about how people like myself can get their rights restored.  I filled out the Application for Restoration of Rights and submitted it along with my criminal records.  That December, I received a letter telling me the application was denied, with no explanation.  There is a two-year waiting period to reapply and there is no appeals process.

Over the past year I've been looking for other avenues to get my rights restored, since the decision is ultimately up to the Governor and not the Secretary of the Commonwealth.  I started working with a coalition of groups and activists ( concerned with restoring rights to the 300,000 disenfranchised convicted felons in Virginia.  Finally on December 16, 2009 I received an email from Bernard Henderson, Senior Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth.  Here is an excerpt:

It is the policy of the Office of the Governor not to provide specific reasons why the Governor exercises his discretion not to grant requests for restoration of rights and not to reconsider decisions when requests are not granted.

However, one requirement is that applicants have no convictions for violations of the law for the three or five years (depending upon the nature of the felony) immediately prior to applying for restoration of rights.  This includes moving violations, such as speeding.

Here's the funny thing:  the Application for Restoration of Rights requires that you have no "misdemeanors or pending convictions" three years before the application.  Traffic tickets, such as the ones I have, are not misdemeanors.  That means the requirement stated above is an additional, secret policy of the Governor's office (not revealed until now) to make it even harder for people to get their rights restored.  Is it illegal?  No.  The Governor can arbitrarily set up any rules he wants, since the Jim Crow laws enshrined in the 1901 Virginia Constitution give him sole discretion to restore rights as he sees fit.  Is it immoral?  Yes!  Not only is there no justification for this practice, the Governor has the complete power to overturn the unfair requirements for restoration.  What's more, there is nothing stopping him from issuing an Executive Order that restores rights to all ex-felons in Virginia who have completed the terms of their sentences.  

Tim Kaine needs to hear from YOU before he leaves office on January 16, 2010.  You can call 804-786-2211 or email his office, visit this website to have a letter sent, write a letter to the editor of a local paper in Virginia, or join me in this urgent push to advocate for change.

At the very least, Governor Kaine should stop the practice of denying applicants who have traffic tickets.  The very best he can do is issue a blanket restoration of rights to all Virginia ex-felons.  Governor Kaine, who I helped get elected, who is the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a civil rights lawyer and a man of faith, should believe in fundamental rights and the concept of redemption.  Unfortunately he seems unwilling to take this step to undo Virginia's regressive policy.  Yes, Governor-Elect McDonnell could try to overturn it.  So what?  Which side of history do you want to be on?  Kentucky, or the rest of the United States that have more sensible processes for ex-felons to regain their voting rights?  What possible legal or political drawback is there to setting up a precedent by which convicted felons, who have fulfilled all their obligations and stayed out of trouble for over three years, can become full citizens again?

P.S.  This story first broke on Not Lary Sabato where I am now being subjected to personal attacks from commentators.  They are even scouring my record, which I have no problem with as long as it's accurately represented.  I don't have any misdemeanor convictions since 1998.

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Thanks for the personal account, Frank
I think the important thing to remember is that, regardless of how one feels about speeding, etc., there are processes to deal with such matters, and I'm sure you've paid and perhaps are still paying for any such violations.  

But we're talking about the right to vote here -- something that should not be taken away except in the most egregious circumstances, if at all.  Our democracy has evolved in the direction of the steady expansion of the franchise -- from only landholding white males in the beginning to most everyone else of age now.  

People with felony convictions in a few backward states are the last frontier of voting rights in America.  So you are absolutely right (as well as brave, considering the inevitable personal attacks) to bring this case up for public scrutiny.  We need more people, not fewer, adding their voice to our democracy.

"Yes,Governor Elect McDonnell Could Try
To overturn it. So what?"

Well put, Frank. Our DNC Chair should not cower in the face of the possibility of litigation. Especially when the good guys are the ones likely to win.

Isn't Sen. Webb
working on precisely this kind of thing? Voting rights restoration? I hope we can get one law across the nation -- once you've paid your "dues", your slate is erased clean and you should have the same privileges/obligations as every other citizen.

That's another thing that I found astounding when I came here; that some people are deprived of their voting rights for life and that restoration s not automatic.  Back in Poland, for all our electoral system was a sham, being deprived of one's voting rights was a big deal; announcements in the paper specified when a felon's sentence included the loss of "citizen's rights" and for how long ("x yrs of prison and loss of citizen's rights for the duration" was the most typical). And lots of sentences did not include the voting rights loss at all, depending on the severity of the offence.

I'm really sorry you got hit like this; it almost seems as if, in VA, we're trying to stop people from being rehabilitated and re-absorbed into society and pushing them back into the pit instead.

Thanks for sharing your story. I can't promise I'll call Kaine -- because of my accent, I really hate the phone -- but I'll try to be brave :) As soon after Jan 1 as possible (my son did make it through the Chicago plane change on X-mas Eve and I've been cooking and baking up a storm ever since. He leaves on the 30th and ordinary life will resume)  

Yes, Senator Webb believes strongly that we are doing
our society a disservice with our enthusiasm for excessive incarceration and more or less permanent suspension of certain civil rights, including the vote.  

[ Parent ]
Outrageous, but not a surprise
at least from my point of view as a criminal defense attorney.  These rules about restoration of voting rights merely continue the ridiculous notion that anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony is somehow irretrievably tainted and can never be trusted to resume the burdens of full citizenship again, no matter how laudatory his/her subsequent behavior or large his/her contributions to society at large.  We like to tell ourselves that there is a huge gap between ordinary citizens and felons, but the fact is that we have been steadily expanding the definition of felony so that it is quite easy to be convicted of one based on mere technicality.  Possess a Schedule II substance even for your own personal use?  Heck, even just carrying a used heroin straw or a crack pipe with a little residue in it?  Yeah, that's a felony and you're a felon and that makes you a bad person who should never be allowed to vote again ... the end.  At least that's the way the narrative runs.  The saddest part of all is that a former felon like yourself CAN go on with life and CAN become a contributing member of society, yet still be stuck with a scarlet F on your forehead, forever consigned to second class citizenship and never allowed to resume life as a fully functional member of society.  The fact that plenty of other people have committed similar youthful indiscretions but for any number of reasons were never prosecuted nor convicted as felons and are now decades later valued, contributing members of society, only makes the sting greater.  There are people living and working honest lives today who would not want to revisit some of the hijinks of their early years.  I've met a few.

I support your position and hope you succeed.  Completed time is completed time and those who have run afoul of society's rules must have a path toward full restoration of their civil rights or else the punishment for a long ago indiscretion can become a permanently disabling civil disability.  I have to ask what society gains from doing this to people.

Kaine's Position
I do not have a problem with Tim Kaine's policy in regards to restoring voting rights for felons.  It has been noted repeatedly that Tim Kaine has restored the voting rights of more felons than any other Governor in the Commonwealth.  The Governor has every right to decide how he grants restoration or not and given the fact that he has restored the rights of a large number of felons then this one case shouldn't upset so many people.  Enough felons have been able to meet his standard and have their rights restored and even though traffic violations are not "criminal" offenses they still require court intervention whether through trial or pre-payment.  In essence, a traffic violation and not reporting it is enough to get someone violated who is on probation. (Technically)  I think this would be more of an issue in this state if Tim Kaine was granting rights to some felons with traffic violations but not others. Unless that is proven then he can't be attacked for following a policy fairly.

While some argue that they are being punished even after they have served their sentence the problem with that argument then runs into difficulty as that is faced by all felons in one way or another. They cannot legally possess firearms, they have to check the box on applications when asked if they have been convicted of a felony and they cannot even work in certain occupations.  Some felons depending on their crime cannot live in certain places or with certain people, must stay under consistent monitor or registration.  Those are all rights lost through proper due process of law where individuals are punished over the course of their lives for past "mistakes".  

A felony offense is a serious matter and yes some of them are committed in one's youth but others are not.  I have no problem with the fact that Tim Kaine has a strict criteria for one to get their right to vote back and in my eyes it's actually reasonable.  Yes, traffic offenses are viewed as "minor" or "unimportant" or whatever else people call it but they serve a purpose.  I personally don't see any problem with Kaine holding them to a higher standard after their release given the fact they committed a higher level offense than simply a misdemeanor.  

Lastly, here and Blue Virginia would have been a perfect place to post this even though it got a lot of attention on NLS.  I've learned, (albeit the hard way) that if your name is on that site your gonna get attacked personally. Here that's not the case.  Plus, he went out of his way to make it a way to go after Tim Kaine who, as we already know does not like at all.  

But what's accomplished when you deny the right to vote?
Daniel, I have no problem with denying gun rights to former felons -- I can see the logic there in terms of going the extra mile to keep the community safe.  That's especially true for those who committed violent offenses, for whom monitoring may also be appropriate.  (Of course, again, we're talking about a non-violent offense in this instance.)

But how is the community made safer by denying former felons the right to vote?  I honestly cannot see the value to society of such a policy.  You can say it's extra "punishment", but that argument doesn't hold up under even minor scrutiny.  First of all, sad to say, many people in our society don't value the right to vote as much as, say, a flat screen TV anyway.  There are more effective ways to punish people.  And I can assure you there's ZERO deterrent effect accomplished by denying ex-felons the right to vote.  ("Vinnie, don't smash that guy's head in -- you might not be able to vote someday!" "Gosh, you're right, Louie -- dat was a close one!")

Second, I thought the whole point of serving your time and getting rehabilitated is that you're not supposed to be punished anymore. Sure, in many cases, there should be monitoring, etc., as one transitions back into society.  But what's the point of serving your time if your punishment just keeps on going and going?

I just cannot see any value in denying former felons the right to vote.  Even if a candidate could conceivably win with the vote of one former felon, what's so awful about that?  It seems to me that these policies are constructed simply to ensure that entire groups -- especially low-income, often poorly educated minorities -- are limited in their electoral influence.  

That's all that accomplished here, as far as I can see.  And that does us no good at all.

[ Parent ]
kindler, it is a bit more complicated
ultimately the legislature should change the law so that any person completing all aspects of his criminal sentence, including parole and supervision after release, automatically gets rights restored unless a background check turns up a problem.

In Frank's case, it is a bit more complicated.  Dan wrote elsewhere that one of Frank's offenses was driving without a license.  For someone with a previous felony conviction, no matter how non-violent, that would be for many people a real red flag.  It is not speeding, or getting caught in an intersection after the light turns red or failing to properly signal while changing lanes.  It is a deliberate, premeditated violation of the law.  And some might well argue that a person is thereby demonstrating that they have not fully grasped the meaning of rehabilitation if there is a deliberate breaking of the law.

I do not know the nature of Frank's traffic offenses, other than that one mention which I read elsewhere.  I do not in fact know how Dan knows.  But if that is the case, under the current structure, even though I like Frank, I would think the clock has to start over from the date of that offense.

And even under the structure I propose of near automaticity, I could see justification for denial of restoration if, say, during supervision such an action had occurred.  

I realize that might place me in the minority here, but so be it.  While I am fully supportive of the idea of restoration, I also think that once one has broken the social contract seriously enough to have a felony conviction, that person can expect to be held to a higher standard in the future.  

As for NLS, I thought Tribbett was over the line with calling it a major scandal, and I think Frank's case was ill-served by having it presented to most people in that context.


This is my world and welcome to it

[ Parent ]
Do your research.
Ken, the driving on a suspended charge was dropped (Nolle Prosequi) because I was never notified that my license was suspended.  If I had any misdemeanors in the past three years, I wouldn't have submitted the Application!  Read the last line of my post:  no misdemeanor convictions since 1998!

[ Parent ]
I was responding to Dan's post
I had not read that material

I will accept that portion

nevertheless, three points

1. as an ex-felon, you are held to a higher standard. That is the procedure

2. While I think in general rights should be restored, I think the procedures should be established legislatively

3.  I do not think this is a major scandal the way Ben wants to play it.  

This is my world and welcome to it

[ Parent ]
A few more things
If I remember correctly, I put that the DOS was nolle prossed which essentially isn't the same as dismissed but close enough.  I know currently without notification the charge is dismissed and given if was recently as in the last few years I'm surprised that wasn't either but that is besides the point.  I mean three violations, with two guilty convictions in less than ten months is a lot by most people's standards.  Even though they are traffic they are still violations no matter how minor with three convictions.

And just so everyone knows since Ben said Frank was from Burke a quick search of the public Fairfax County General District Court Case Information website provided me with all this.  I want to make sure I am accurate.

The main thing is that Frank didn't know that traffic violations were disqualifiers and according to the form you have it's hard to interpret under bullet 5 if "convictions" also include traffic related.  I'm assuming that that is the case for Frank in which had he known that he wouldn't have submitted the application.  Kaine's policy isn't  clear which lead to confusion here.  If he wasn't "clean" or "blemish" free records then Kaine is applying his policy fairly.

A few more things:

Even though Kaine isn't as clear regarding traffic violations he is still following the policy he has implemented and has every right to implement as Governor. If he is applying this policy fairly to all felons across the board then I see no major issue.

Ken is right in that felons are held to a higher standard.  They will be felons for the rest of their lives unless granted a pardon or expungement.  A felony is serious and for anyone to argue otherwise has never been the victim of a felony (Although no one here argues that)  While the e-mail only cited the "speeding" violation is does not look good that in less than a 10 month span there were two guilty convictions and another a year later.  While people argue traffic infractions shouldn't matter, unfortunately in this case they do and plenty of other felons have not been hindered by this. The procedures should be legislatively restored because they can vary greatly among who is Governor.

Lastly, the major problem here also is that this broke on NLS and given Ben's hatred for Tim Kaine he made it more about going after Kaine in my opinion that the fact that Kaine's less than clear policy has prevented Frank, who has clearly proven it's possible to lead a productive life after incarceration from regaining some basic rights. There is no need for the DNC to investigate this, as he has the authority to reinstate rights how he so chooses.  Considering he has reinstated over 1,000 felons the DNC isn't going to do anything, especially if Ben is demanding.

It's very sad
that some Democrats believe that traffic tickets, no matter how many, are an acceptable reason to bar an ex-felon from getting his rights restored.

I know this is hypothetical, but imagine if we were a state that already restored rights automatically as soon as a felon is off probation or parole (like most states).  If that were the status quo, would you argue that the current policy was too liberal?  Then, if the governor or legislature decided to further restrict restoration to the same level as Kentucky, would you be okay with that?

[ Parent ]
I agree
Frank, I think this is just one more way to disenfranchise and limit the number of voters. It is also vengeance laced with stupidity.  It would be nice if other Dems (besides Jim Webb) would do the right thing.  

Not doing so is stupid because research shows recidivism is decreased when those convicted of crimes are eased back into full citizenship.  And so I think restoration should be automatic.  Fulfill the terms of the sentence and probation and rights should be restored, no questions. petitions, letters or forms required.

The number of crimes keeps expanding.  And the vengeance seekers keep limiting the potential for not just voting rights, but (worse) employment, etc.  No wonder there are more imprisoned in our country than anywhere else (and more disenfranchised as a result).  I am not minimizing the significance of the crime here, but it was a non-violent offense.  And as has been pointed out, even murderers have had voting rights restored.  

I strongly believe in redemption --and fairness.  Secret rules are just not acceptable.

And I am very disappointed in the governor.  It is time the Dems stop trying to out-do the pretend-war-on-crime warriors, whose real intent is not preventing crime, but rather feeding the "anti-crime" industry and manipulating other related issues--and votes.

"One person, one vote" died at the hands of SCOTUS, January 21, 2010

[ Parent ]
Here are a few more issues I now have......
There are Democrats who believe that traffic tickets are enough to bar a felon from getting his rights restored.  Furthermore, it is a lot of small details that are bothering me that is being over looked.  First, no one is an "ex-felon" and I'm sorry if that offends anyone but it is the legal truth.  It is something that you have to carry around for the rest of your life with the best example of that being on a job application you'd have to check (If asked) have you been convicted of a felony.  I know that traffic tickets doesn't appear to be a major things to most people they are there because they serve a purpose and if the laws aren't enforced then safety will decrease. Technically, a violation is a violation where you come in contact with the judicial system.

Also, even though you didn't know the Kaine considered traffic infractions "blemishes" on one's to prevent someone from getting their rights back unfortunately that is the case and there's nothing anyone can do about it.  The Governor is not discriminately applying his policy/criteria to certain people but all of those in your situation with traffic offenses.  Even though it's "sad" it's the current policy. There are ways to get around that by amending the constitution but that hasn't happened yet.  I am not surprised that we still have this on the book because Virginia is one of the most conservative states when it comes to criminal justice issues and this falls under that through convicted felons.  Also, with the amount of felons who have gotten their rights back they didn't experience this problem with traffic infractions.

Finally, it doesn't really matter what other states do. It is their sovereign right to choose what rights felons have and don't have to be influenced by others.  A perfect example of this will be when certain death penalty legislation is passed and signed even though other states are abolishing it or attempting to.  If a state's legislature or Governor decided to change their law to one similar of Kentucky then again it is their right as a state.  Those legislators or Governor's will have to explain and justify their actions to the voters come election day.

You're missing the point entirely.
The "policy" of denying applicants due to traffic tickets is actually just a bureaucratic process, not a law.  It's not in the VA Constitution.  It may not even be written down.  There's not "nothing anyone can to about it."  The Governor can very easily change it because the process is up to his sole discretion.

I'm not asking for special treatment, I'm asking for Kaine to change this policy.  That's the very least he could do.  The most he could do is issue an Executive Order restoring rights to all convicted felons who have completed the terms of their sentences.

It's surprising how everyone is playing judge,jury and executioner with varying opinions on what someone should or shouldn't have to do to get their rights restored.  It just underscores the problem of how arbitrary the whole process is.

[ Parent ]
I am much more in favor of
misdemeanors such as traffic violations be considered as they are for most federal applications, requiring explanation but not available to be used as impetus to deny restoration. Misdemeanors in this situation have to basically be declared and that is it. Once felonies are paid for through penalty determined by the courts, there should be no barrier to restoration.

It is sheer nonsense to say that ex-felons be held to higher standards because there are no objective raised standards. Requiring ex-felons to be free from any police or court contact for any amount of time is ridiculous and opens a window, even as remote as it may be, for the politicization of such bodies.

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