Va. governor restores voting rights for 13K felons

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has again restored the voting rights of about 13,000 felons after his previous attempt was blocked by the state Supreme Court


By Alanna Durkin Richer
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has again restored the voting rights of about 13,000 felons after his previous attempt was blocked by the state Supreme Court, the Democrat said Monday.

Virginia's highest court sided with Republican lawmakers in a July ruling that said governors cannot restore rights en masse, and must consider each offender on a case-by-case basis. That ruling invalidated an executive order issued by McAuliffe in April that had given back the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a news conference on Friday, July 15, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a news conference on Friday, July 15, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

After the decision, McAuliffe pledged to move quickly to ensure the 13,000 people who had registered to vote before their rights were stripped away by the court would be able to cast ballots this fall. His administration processed each felon's paperwork individually to comply with the ruling, McAuliffe said.

"These individuals are gainfully employed. They send their children and their grandchildren to our schools. They shop in our grocery stores and they pay taxes. And I am not content to condemn them for eternity as inferior second-class citizens," McAuliffe said while standing in front of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

The governor also laid out a plan for how he will restore the rights of the tens of thousands of other felons who were impacted by the court ruling. The orders also allow the felons to serve on a jury, run for public office and become a notary public.

The Virginia Supreme Court's 4-3 decision striking down the executive order was a significant blow for McAuliffe, who called felon disenfranchisement a vestige of the state's Jim Crow past because it disproportionately affects African-Americans.

Republicans have accused McAuliffe of trying to add more Democrats to the voter rolls to aid presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in November, but McAuliffe has dismissed criticism that his motivations were political. GOP House Speaker William Howell, who sued McAuliffe over the order, said lawmakers will carefully review the process McAuliffe laid out Monday to ensure it meets the requirements set by the court.

"From the beginning, we have done nothing more than hold the governor accountable to the constitution and the rule of law. The Supreme Court's decision vindicated our efforts and we will continue to fulfill our role as a check on the excesses of executive power," Howell said in a statement.

McAuliffe's administration had argued that there is nothing in Virginia's constitution that says governors must restore felons' rights on a case-by-case basis. But the Supreme Court rejected that argument, saying the claim that governors can restore rights en masse is "irreconcilable" with the requirement that governors must report to lawmakers the "'particulars of every case' and state his 'reasons' for each pardon."

Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky and Florida are the only states that still remove voting rights for felons for life unless a state official restores them, according to the Washington-based Sentencing Project. Virginia is among three states where more than one in five black adults have lost their voting rights, the group says.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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