Virginia Governor Grants 13,000 Felons Voting Rights

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Go forth and vote.Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

About 13,000 ex-felons will now have the opportunity to cast ballots in the presidential election after Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe restored their voting rights on Monday.

McAuliffe’s executive action is the latest in a back-and-forth between the governor, Republican legislators, and the state supreme court over the decision to re-enfranchise individuals with past felony convictions. Back in April, McAuliffe used an executive order to restore voting rights to all felons who had completed their sentences and any parole or probation requirements — about 206,000 people, many of them minorities. Virginia is one of four states whose constitutions permanently strip felons of the right to vote, though the law grants the governor power to individually restore those rights. McAuliffe’s sweeping proclamation granted nonviolent offenders — about 80 percent — the right to register immediately; violent offenders had to complete three years of supervised release without incident to be added back to the rolls.

Virginia Republicans sued to block McAuliffe’s executive order, arguing that it was a political play to bolster the Democratic rolls – and Hillary Clinton’s chances — ahead of the 2016 presidential election. In July, the state supreme court ruled against McAuliffe, 4-3, arguing that the executive power to restore voting rights was broad, but “not absolute.” The majority of the judges objected to the governor’s blanket order, which did not evaluate each felon’s situation on a case-by-case basis.

In the wake of that decision, McAuliffe tried again on Monday, restoring the voting rights of 13,000 convicts who had already registered after McAuliffe’s first effort. To meet the criteria of the court decision, the governor’s office claimed to have vetted each of the 13,000. The governor vowed to sign orders for all 200,000, though he did not provide a specific timeline.

Republican legislators have said they’ll look into whether there are grounds to challenge McAuliffe’s latest action. Former Republican governor Bob McDonnell had also taken steps to ease the voting ban, but the outcry really has much more to do with Virginia’s electoral votes. Many of those who would become eligible to vote are African-American, a group that tends to vote Democrat in what was assumed to be a key swing state. But recent Virginia polls give Hillary Clinton a commanding lead over Trump in the state. GOP candidate Donald Trump still put in his two cents on Monday at a campaign stop in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He said McAuliffe was attempting to get “thousands of violent felons to the voting booth in an effort to cancel out the votes of both law enforcement and crime victims.”