Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s call for felons to write an essay to gain back their voting rights is a thinly veiled attempt to minimize such requests.  But more important, it gives his administration the chance to deny anyone they want based on the essay.  What possible criteria can he devise for the essay that is not wholly dependent on subjective evaluation?

McDonnell (R) will require the offenders to submit an essay outlining their contributions to society since their release, turning a nearly automatic process into a subjective one that some say may prevent poor, less-educated or minority residents from being allowed to vote.

Virginia is one of only two states that require approval from the governor to restore felons’ rights.  Most states do so automatically once a sentence has been served.

What puzzles me is the Democrats’ response.

"It’s another roadblock," Sen. Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk), a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said when she was told of the change.

(It is surprising that in a story of more than 1,000 words that three-word sentence is the entirety of the Democrats’ viewpoint.  Whether that is the reporter’s fault for not seeking more comment or the Dems fault for not speaking up is unknown.)

We do have this statement by the state’s Democratic Party office (thanks to Blue Virginia):

"Governor McDonnell should immediately remove this costly and burdensome barrier for non-violent offenders to renew their voting and 2nd Amendment rights.  It’s mind-boggling that Governor McDonnell would choose to bury the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office in unnecessary paperwork during a time of belt-tightening and budget cuts. Surely the Secretary’s valuable time could be used in more productive ways than grading essays for Governor McDonnell.

"If Governor McDonnell wants to improve Virginia’s prisoner reentry efforts, he should make it easier for those who have completed their sentence to fully integrate back into society. Instead, he chose to institute an unprecedented roadblock in a Commonwealth with a painful history of blocking voting rights. Given his experience last week, it’s shocking that the Governor would unnecessarily stumble on Virginia’s history yet again.

"Virginia now may have surpassed Kentucky as the state with the most obstacles to reintegration for non-violent offenders who have served their sentence. Virginians should not be subjected to more bureaucracy getting in the way of their rights to vote, hunt, or exercise any other Constitutional rights.

"This is yet another unnecessary side project by Governor McDonnell when Virginia is facing its highest unemployment rate in nearly 30 years. Right now, Virginians have to be wondering, what happened to ‘Bob’s for Jobs?’"

Why lead with how costly and burdensome it might be?  Why focus on administrative “roadblocks” and “bureaucracy”? 

The statement should have been more forthright.  Instead of trying to parse words, the Dems need to be more confrontational.  Something like this:

Just days after the anachronistic “Confederate proclamation,” Gov. McDonnell and the Republican Party have again demonstrated their underlying racial insensitivity with an egregious campaign to limit the vote by requiring the modern day equivalent of the literacy test.

This is a naked attempt to put the McDonnell administration, which is overwhelmingly white, to limit the voting rights of black people.  There is an overrepresentation of African-Americans in Virginia’s prisons, a result in part of biased application of the law.  Far more than half of the prison population in Virginia is African-American.

But whatever the ethnicity of Virginians who have paid their debt to society, Bob McDonnell is instituting a plan to require essays before their rights are restored.  It is a system fraught with subjective determinations that are likely to be used in a partisan way.

Given the recent acts of Virginia’s top lawyer, Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli, we would likely see a prejudiced system designed to continue to deny rights to people who have paid their debt to society.

This smacks of literacy tests instituted in Virginia and across the South during earlier times in our history.  Those tests were designed to prevent people of color from voting. This appears to be McDonnell’s modern version of the literacy test.

Attack.  Repeat. Attack.  And stop throwing softballs.