Portsmouth non-violent felon fights for voting rights

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth resident Lisa White is a convicted non-violent felon, facing another felony charge for voting in the 2008 presidential election. Now she’s trying to get back her right to vote.

Last May, then Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell did something never done before in Virginia — he restored the civil rights of non-violent felons, like White, to automatically get back the right to vote. Here’s the problem: when McDonnell did that, White was already in trouble for election fraud. Had she not voted, she would have been a perfect candidate to get her right to vote restored.

Now, in order to keep a chance alive of getting her voting rights restored, White is refusing to take a plea deal in the election fraud charge against her. White is stuck in a legal dilemma.

When Governor Bob McDonnell made it easier for non-violent felons to vote, no one cheered louder than the Civil Rights Organization Advancement Project. The organization produced the “Virginia Civil Rights Restoration Guide,” which helps felons walk through the complicated system of trying to get their civil rights restored.

“As long as they fill out this form, making themselves known to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the Secretary does not have the discretion to deny their rights,” said attorney Leah Kang. “They should be processed, then given a certificate to get their rights back.”

Governor McDonnell’s initiative removed waiting periods for non-violent felons, and created two forms — a longer more complicated one for felons convicted of violent crimes and a short simple one for non-violent felons, like Lisa White.

“They arrested me, handcuffed me, shackled me. I felt like dirt. I was hurt,” White said.

White was arrested last year for election fraud after investigators discovered she voted in 2008. It is a felony offense for her to vote because because she was convicted of writing bad checks, which is a non-violent felony, in 1988.

White admits she was wrong to vote in 2008, but says she was confused.

“I told them I was sorry,” White said. “I was shocked when they came to my door four years later.”

When a voter registration form showed up in her mailbox in 2008, White said she thought she was eligible to vote. And then she actually was able to vote. She said she walked away from the situation thinking her voting rights had been restored. But prosecutors raise this point: to the question on the voter registration form that asked if she had ever been convicted of a felony, White checked “no.”

“It seems unfortunate because she got confused, and registered to vote,” Kang said. “She now has this set back that is preventing her from reclaiming her right to vote.”

On Monday, White will be in court for the election fraud charge. She says the Commonwealth’s Attorney has offered her a plea deal: “They offered me to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, pay fines.”

But here’s the problem for this non-violent felon — to get her voting rights back, one condition is she cannot have any misdemeanors within the past two years. WAVY.com asked her if this is one of the reasons she will not accept the plea deal.

“Yes, I won’t plead guilty to a misdemeanor. I am not going to do it because I won’t be able to vote, and that’s not right … the charge should be dropped,” White said.

The only hope Lisa White has on Monday is to throw herself on the mercy of an understanding jury. The jury must believe White when she says the voter registration form in the mail made her think all was forgiven, she was allowed to vote, and did not need to report the non-violent felony she served time for 20 years earlier. The jury must then recognize her successful life after the non-violent felony in 1988: that she worked for the government, worked as a nurse, raised three children. Finally, the jury must think under the circumstances, the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney should never have brought the case against her to begin with.

10 On You Side will let you know what the jury decides.

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