Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe Will Grant Voting Rights to Felons

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe Will Grant Voting Rights to Felons

Despite a state court’s July ruling that blocked his executive order to restore felons’ suffrage, the governor will declare the policy at an event in Richmond on Monday, The Washington Post reported.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will announce Monday that he has restored voting rights to 13,000 felons, defying the Republicans and state Supreme Court justices who last month stopped his more sweeping clemency effort.

McAuliffe’s planned action, confirmed by two people with knowledge of it, comes about a month after the Supreme Court of Virginia invalidated an executive order the Democrat issued in April. With that order, the governor restored voting rights to more than 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

McAuliffe said his original order would move Virginia away from a harsh lifetime disenfranchisement policy that hits African Americans particularly hard.

Republicans, incensed that it covered violent and nonviolent offenders alike, said the move was really a bid to add Democrat-friendly voters to the rolls ahead of November’s presidential elections, when the governor’s close friend and political ally, Hillary Clinton, will be on the ballot.

Republicans also found the McAuliffe administration had mistakenly restored rights to 132 sex offenders still in custody and to several convicted murderers on probation in other states.

Contending that the governor had overstepped his authority by restoring rights en masse rather than case by case, GOP legislative leaders took him to court and won. Since 13,000 of the 200,000 felons had already registered to vote, the court ordered the state to once again put their names on its list of banned voters.

Immediately that ruling, McAuliffe vowed to use an autopen to individually sign orders restoring rights. He promised to do the first 13,000 within a week and all 200,000 within two.

“By the end of this week, I will have restored the rights of all 13,000!” McAuliffe declared last month.

Since then, the McAuliffe administration has acknowledged unspecified hold-ups but declined to provide a new timetable for restoring rights. On Friday came the first hint, with the release of McAuliffe’s official schedule.

At noon Monday, it said, he will appear at the Civil Rights Memorial on Capitol Square “to make major restoration of rights announcement.”

A McAuliffe spokeswoman, Christina Nuckols, declined to provide more information.

McAuliffe will announce that he has restored voting rights to the 13,000 felons, making them free to register once again, according to the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose his plans. McAuliffe also will lay out his plans to restore rights to the remainder of the 200,000.

That move will be welcomed by such felons as Herb Williams of Prince William County, who signed up to vote after McAuliffe’s original order – only to be later removed from the rolls.

“I just feel like part of me was stolen,” said Williams, 62, a minister who said he straightened his life out after being convicted of drug and robbery charges in the 1990s. “People who have redeemed themselves. . . . They should not continue to be marked people.”

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said she would cheer another restoration plan – particularly one that restores rights before October, the registration deadline for voting in November.

“We think it’s the right thing to do, and we’re hopeful it will get done in time for people to be able to register before the deadline,” she said.

Del. Robert B. Bell, R, a 2017 candidate for state attorney general who has led the charge against McAuliffe’s order, said he would watch any new restoration efforts closely given implementation problems with the original order.

“Given that his first order was unconstitutional and included a non-citizen sex offender in Peru, we will certainly want to review whatever he does on Monday very carefully,” Bell said.

Tarun Kumar

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