Hiccup in restoration of voting rights to Virginia felons

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia House and Senate leaders say there is a hiccup in connection with a sweeping order from Governor Terry McAuliffe to restore voting rights to Virginia felons.

In April, Governor McAuliffe cleared the way for 206,000 felons to head back to the polls. 10 On Your Side has learned that some of those people should have never been given the opportunity.

McAuliffe has said rights would be restored only for felons who had completed their sentences and parole. However, that is not the case, according to a Washington Post investigation, which discovered several violent felons currently in prison or on supervised probation had their rights restored.

The new development is fueling the fire for Republicans who believe the clemency order is a political stunt.

Speaker William J. Howell, along with Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr., Senate Caucus Chairman Senator Ryan McDougle, House Courts of Justice Committee Vice-Chairman Rob Bell, Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman and Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Fisher joined in on a discussion about the recent revelations.

House Courts of Justice Committee Vice-Chairman Rob Bell says, “We are just left with this question, ‘Who compiled this list? The Governor’s office or some high school intern?'”

The Post report says McAuliffe’s order was rushed and the governor’s search did not ‘capture people in local jails awaiting trial or sentencing, fugitives on outstanding charges or those serving sentences on grand larceny, burglary or narcotics distribution charges.’

House and Senate leaders are now calling for a careful review.

“The governor was so eager to get this done, it appears he didn’t even do his due diligence and I’m stunned at what he’s done,” Speaker William J. Howell says. “It’s reckless and it exceeds our worst fears.”

A spokesman for McAuliffe has attributed the errors to flaws in a system that identifies convicted felons in Virginia. Still, Republicans say officials did not check for felons living outside Virginia.

For example, Daniel Harmon, who was a Culpeper police officer when he shot a Sunday school teacher in her Jeep as she drove away. He is currently on supervised probation in California — but can legally vote, run for office and sit on a jury. It is a similar situation for Dantic Virgil, who is sitting in the Deerfield Correctional Center serving time in Virginia prisons for sex crimes, records show.

Virginia House and Senate Republican leaders say some are still in prison.

“The governor has repeatedly refused the list of offenders and a FOIA request and the governor didn’t even follow his own rules,” said Bell.

In the meantime, the state is relying on prosecutors and felons themselves to spot errors. McAuliffe’s office could not say how many people had mistakenly been given back voting rights.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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