By Steffanie Atkins
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – It was nearly 12 years ago that Michael Maupin lost his voting privileges and other rights in Virginia because of a felony drug conviction. But Maupin has hope for the future because he just received a letter from Gov. Bob McDonnell restoring his civil rights.
In 2001, Maupin was arrested and convicted of an attempt to violate the Drug Control Act. He tried to buy what he thought was acid – the hallucinogenic drug LSD – from an undercover federal officer. Maupin was sentenced to eight years in prison and 14 on probation. He ended up serving only six months in jail. But as a felon, he lost his right to vote.
A decade later, Maupin applied to the commonwealth to have his civil rights restored. He said his main priority was to be able to vote again.
“My one vote maybe doesn’t make a difference, but it does make a difference to me. It would have been nice to have voted for Obama and be a part of a big moment in history,” Maupin said.
In 2010, McDonnell changed the previous policy for restoring the rights of felons who’ve served their time: He reduced the three-year waiting period to two years and shortened the time for processing restoration paperwork.
“We have now established the fastest and fairest restoration of rights process in modern Virginia history. I believe that when we restore offenders as full participants in our society, it helps them become more productive citizens, and it helps make our commonwealth a safer and better place,” McDonnell said in a press release shortly after he took office.
Maupin applied to have his rights restored last fall and received confirmation about a month ago that he had been approved.
“The governor sent me a letter stating he was giving me my rights back. Basically, he thinks after everything that had happened, I would still be a good asset to the community if I had my rights back,” Maupin said.
Maupin, a Richmond native, said that since he was released from jail, he has done everything he could to make a better life for himself, his wife and his stepson. He has been employed with Batteries Plus for two years. Maupin said it was difficult in the beginning trying to obtain employment because of his felony conviction.
“Companies won’t give you the time of day because they know you have a felony,” Maupin said. But he persisted until he was given an opportunity to prove himself to his employers. Maupin believes it was this persistence that helped him reach his goal of restoring his civil rights.
McDonnell and some state legislators would like to make it even easier for nonviolent felons to get their rights back after they have completed their sentence. During the General Assembly’s 2013 session, more than a dozen proposals were filed regarding the issue. But they all died in committees.
For example, Delegate Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, introduced a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the civil rights of felons after they have completed their sentence, including parole and probation, and paid all fines. It died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.
Similar constitutional amendments were proposed by Democratic Sens. Donald McEachin of Richmond, Chap Petersen of Fairfax and Louise Lucas of Portsmouth. Those amendments were combined and passed the Senate, but the measure later died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee as well.
Most states make it easier for felons to get their rights back than Virginia does.
Maine and Vermont allow convicted felons to vote from prison by absentee ballot. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., allow restoration of voting privileges after felons complete their prison sentence. Twenty-three states restore felons’ rights after they have served parole and/or probation.
Virginia is among the dozen states with the harshest laws regarding the restoration of felons’ rights. About 450,000 Virginians – 7 percent of the state’s voting-age population – can’t vote because they have a felony record, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group.
Maupin hopes legislation to restore the civil rights of nonviolent offenders in Virginia will pass in the future. He said getting his rights back helps him become a productive member of society.
“My individual vote may not make a big difference, but my vote may also be the one vote that makes the difference,” Maupin said. “Regardless of what happened in my past, my future is undecided.”
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.
ProCon.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, has posted a “State by State Chart of Felon Voting Laws”: