VA to Restore Voting Rights for 200,000 Felons

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From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia will use his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing his Republican-run legislature. The action will overturn a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.

The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.

No way to know how many of the newly eligible voters in Virginia will register, but Mr. McAuliffe said he would encourage all to do so

“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Mr. McAuliffe said Thursday, previewing the announcement he will make on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, just yards from where President Abraham Lincoln once addressed freed slaves. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”

The action, which Mr. McAuliffe said was justified under an expansive legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority, goes far beyond what other governors have done, experts say, and will almost certainly provoke a backlash from Virginia Republicans, who have resisted measures to expand felons’ voting rights. It has been planned in secrecy, and comes amid an intensifying national debate over race, mass incarceration and the criminal justice system.

There is no way to know how many of the newly eligible voters in Virginia will register, but Mr. McAuliffe said he would encourage all to do so. “My message is going to be that I have now done my part,” he said.

Only two states — Maine and Vermont — have no voting restrictions on felons. Of the remaining 48, 12 states disenfranchise felons after they have completed probation or parole, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington policy organization that advocates restoring felons’ voting rights.

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