Eleven years ago, Jamie Ferrante lost his right to vote.
Jamie Ferrante: “I guess I was about 30. I was convicted of my fourth DUI in a 5-year span, which is a felony. Um, I spent a little time in jail and they took my rights away.”
In nine states, including Virginia where Ferrante lives, convicted felons can only get back the right to vote if they're individually approved by the governor or a court.
When Democrat Terry McAuliffe became Virginia's governor in 2014, he sped up the process. In a little over a year, McAuliffe restored the right to vote for 18,000 felons - more than the previous seven governors combined.
Ferrante was one of them. A former addict, he says he's been clean and law-abiding for a decade.
Jamie Ferrante: “I went through the process. It's a website, it's a one-page form, fill out your name and address, the charge, and then about 8 to 10 months later I was, I got a letter in the mail saying, ‘Congratulations, your rights have been restored’."
Attkisson: “What has that meant to you?”
Ferrante: “It's incredible. I I now become a process, a part of the political process.”
In April, Virginia's Governor took matters a step further. With the stroke of a pen, he returned voting rights to 206,000 convicted felons at once.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe: And so today I will sign an order restoring the civil and voting rights of every single individual who has completed his or her sentence as of this day April 22, 2016.
Attkisson: “You only heard about it after the fact."
Jim Plowman: "After the fact, right.”
Republican Jim Plowman prosecutes felony crimes in Virginia and says the Governor's order violated the state constitution. He and more than a third of Virginia's Commonwealth attorneys joined a lawsuit to stop it.
Plowman: “It was a fairly large group, 43 of us signed onto the brief, and it was non-partisan. In fact, of the 43, only 19 are Republicans.”
Attkisson: “What were your concerns?”
Plowman: “A database was just dumped into the voter system, and it wasn't vetted, it wasn't looked at, it wasn't scrubbed.”
In neighboring Maryland, Democrats are also going for the ex-con vote; this year, the General Assembly expanded voting rights to 40,000 felons still on probation or parole.
And in California, Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law a bill to return voting rights to 50,000 convicted felons while they're still doing time behind bars in county jails, starting next year.
McAuliffe: “Second chances matter. These folks, George, understand, they have served their time, they're done with their probation or parole. They're back in society.”
Well, not all of them, as it turns out. The Governor's order was supposed to exclude people still in prison, mental hospitals or on probation.
So how did Michael Hargrave, convicted in a case of underage sex, end up getting his voting rights restored?
Plowman: “He was currently on probation at the time the governor's order was entered, so he does not qualify 'cause part of the required criteria for the governor's orders is that you've completed your supervised probation. He was still on supervised probation, and for some reason he is in the governor's database as restored.”
Hargrave wasn't the only one. The Governor wouldn't give state prosecutors the list of felons who were granted rights, so Plowman did his own detective work
He plugged in names from some of his own cases and was astonished by what he found.
Plowman: “Seven years supervised probation upon his release -- okay, so this guy should not be restored. There was one individual in particular that was sitting in our jail pending new felony charges and his rights were restored. He's a convicted rapist. The state constitution says if you're incapacitated mentally in that manner that you are not eligible to vote. For some reason he's in the database as being restored.”
Perhaps the strangest case was that of Cerda Maquin. His voting rights were restored under the Governor's order after he was convicted of sexual battery on an 11-year-old, even though he was never a U.S. citizen.
Plowman: “He's not a U.S. citizen, yet when you look into the Governor's database, restoration of his rights were granted on April 22.”
In July, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down the Governor's order. The felons who'd been granted voting rights were back to square one.
After his court defeat, Governor McAuliffe quickly moved back to individual case reviews and restored voting rights of nearly 13,000 felons.
McAuliffe: “We are going through the process just as the court asked me to do it, doing it individually.”
He says Republicans should stop griping and get busy.
McAuliffe: “I would like everyone whose rights were restored to come out and vote for Hillary Clinton, and this is the point I've made to the Republicans. Instead of continuously complaining about them and dissing them, if you give a few minutes trying to give your reason why you should vote for them, maybe you'd be in a better position today.”
Attkisson: “What makes this something other than a political dispute between someone who hopes to get a lot of Democrats registered before the election and someone who doesn't want that to happen?”
Plowman: “To me, this is about an individual's behavior, it's not about politics. If someone has turned their life around, has overcome their felony conviction, has paid their debt to society, and has reintegrated themselves productively into the community, I welcome them back. But what we're seeing is, you know, restore anyone, anytime, for any situation, we don't care.”
As for Ferrante, come November, he'll vote for President for the first time.
Ferrante: “I don't think that they should ever take our right to vote away, ever.”
Attkisson: “And have you decided who you're going to vote for for president?”
Ferrante: “I have.”
Attkisson: “Do you want to say who?”
Ferrante: “I don't.”