MCDONNELL’S FREQUENT DETOURS…. In Virginia, the policy for non-violent felons hoping to have their voting rights restored has been stringent, but straightforward: they had to fill out some paperwork. The state’s surprisingly-inept new governor, Bob McDonnell (R), recently created a new requirement: the ex-cons had to write an essay, highlighting their “contributions to society” since their release.

It was, in effect, a modern-day literacy test for a group of citizens hoping to vote in the commonwealth. The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus was right to call the move “a horrific step back towards the era of Jim Crow.”

This week, McDonnell’s administration said the letters to felons explaining their need to write essays were sent by mistake.

“The letter was sent without approval by a well-meaning staffer attempting to continue to process requests even while new procedures were being considered,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said. […]

“This seems like an odd way to make policy,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “But, we are delighted if the administration is serious about dropping the requirement for a lengthy personal letter to the Governor and look forward to a productive discussion with the Governor’s office about improving the restoration procedure.”

There’s still a possibility that McDonnell will decide to require personal essays, but at this point, it seems that the governor is wisely backing down.

Adam Serwer notes the apparent trend:

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia proposes some controversial culture-war initiative, someone notices it, and he backs off. First, there was his rescindment of anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian state employees. Then there was his proclamation of “Confederate History Month” that omitted slavery. Now, he’s suggested instituting more restrictions on voting rights for the formerly incarcerated — and started to back off.

Now if only McDonnell would stop taking absurd steps to begin with, he’ll have less of a need to keep reversing course.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.