Joint Subcommittee to Study Election Law and Felon Disenfranchisement
August 17, 1999, Richmond
Election Administration ActivitiesThe Commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles and the Secretary of the State Board of Elections reported to the joint subcommittee on a number of items, including:
Virginia Beach Pilot Project at DMV facilities. The 1999 General Assembly authorized pilot projects that place voter registrars on site at DMV customer service centers. Two projects are underway in Virginia Beach where DMV provides counter space and equipment and the registrar's office staffs the counters. A DMV customer completes his license application and takes the voter registration application part of the combined form to the registrar's counter for immediate processing while his driver's license is prepared. Over 7,000 voter registrations were accepted and entered into the central voter registration system at the two centers through July. The pilot project almost eliminated the filing of duplicate and incomplete voter registration applications, which have cost registrars staff time and mailing costs.
DMV and the state board hope to expand the service center project to additional localities, and eight areas have expressed interest in the project. More than half of new voter registrations now originate at DMV facilities.
The cost of providing voter registrars at DMV centers presents a hurdle for registrars in some areas. The joint subcommittee asked for additional information on the costs to the localities and registrars' offices and suggested that DMV and the state board examine the use of new software programs to check applicant addresses and eliminate nonexistent addresses.
The Virginia Voter Registration System. The committee to oversee the upgrade of the VVRS continues to meet and plans to report in early October. The committee is looking at in-house expertise to upgrade the VVRS and retain the present "real time" system. The state board will complete installation of new computers and printers and training for the registrars this month.
Polling place and voting accessibility. Virginia now provides voting accessibility for the disabled through absentee ballots, curbside voting, and assistance in the polling place. S 511, introduced by Senators McCain and Kerry and now pending in Congress, sets out requirements for the states to provide disabled voters full access to voting equipment. There is no approved voting equipment that meets that legislation's proposed voting accessibility requirements. The state board is now reviewing the accessibility of polling places and voter registrars' offices throughout Virginia.
Restoration of Felons' Voting RightsAttorney General's Opinion. The subcommittee discussed the opinion from the Attorney General in response to Senator Hanger's request for advice whether "the phrase ‘other appropriate authority' in Article II, § 1 is sufficiently broad to permit the General Assembly to provide for a statutory process to restore the voting rights of felons in Virginia." The Attorney General concluded "that the General Assembly is not an ‘other appropriate authority,' as that phrase is used in Article II, § 1."
The subcommittee agreed that the chair should write to the Attorney General for a further opinion addressing more specific questions, including whether the General Assembly, by statute, could authorize judges to restore civil rights in certain cases.
Restoration procedures. Staff reviewed the procedures used in the 15 states, including Virginia, which disenfranchise felons and do not provide for the automatic restoration of civil rights following completion of sentence. Each state's process is unique.
The subcommittee concluded that it would pursue two approaches: first, the letter to the Attorney General; and second, exploration of specific suggestions to discuss with the administration on ways to improve and streamline the process.
- Virginia and five other states require the applicant to wait a specified period after completion of incarceration or sentence before seeking restoration. The waiting period varies in length, may apply from end of incarceration or total sentence, and may not apply to every category of crime. Nine states have no waiting period following incarceration or completion of sentence.
- Six of the 15 states (not Virginia) prohibit any restoration of rights in connection with certain crimes; e.g., treason, conviction after impeachment, or murder.
- Twelve states (including Virginia) provide a printed application form for restoration in response to a request or through the Internet. Only three states use a letter from the petitioner to initiate the process.
- The length and complexity of the application form and number of required documents vary from state to state. The state processes used to review and investigate the application also vary.
- The governor alone makes the final determination whether to approve the application in nine states (including Virginia).
Voter Information on Constitutional AmendmentsStaff reviewed the types of voter information now provided by states on the Internet and through voter pamphlets and publications on pending statewide ballot questions. A 50-state survey shows that:
The subcommittee reviewed an outline of voter information options. It directed staff to consult with the Clerk of the House of Delegates and Secretary of the State Board of Elections, examine the present statutes on voter information requirements (Code §§ 30-13 and 30-19.9), and send recommendations for streamlining the process to the subcommittee in advance of its next meeting.
- 36 states (including Virginia) post ballot questions on the Internet in advance of the election;
- 33 states (including Virginia) show the wording of the ballot questions;
- 9 states provide a short statement on the meaning of a "yes" vote and "no" vote;
- 26 states (including Virginia as of 7/1/99) set out the full text of the amendment;
- 25 states (including Virginia) provide a neutral explanation of the proposal;
- 11 states include proponent and opponent statements.
The Honorable Mary Margaret Whipple, Chair
Legislative Services contact: Mary R. Spain