Graham Moomaw, Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 22, 2016
Gov. Terry McAuliffe today signed an order restoring the voting rights of 206,000 ex-felons, a sweeping action the governor said was aimed at rectifying Virginia’s “long and sad history” of suppressing African-American voting power.
Coming in a presidential election year, a swift backlash ensued as Republicans accused McAuliffe of abusing his executive power to help longtime ally Hillary Clinton win a battleground state by putting more likely Democratic voters on the books.
The governor’s order applies to all violent and nonviolent felons who have completed all phases of their sentences and supervised release as of Friday–even those who have not applied for a restoration of rights–a departure from past policies in which governors restored rights on an individual basis.
“We benefit from a more just and accountable government when we put trust in all of our citizens to choose their leaders,” McAuliffe said to a cheering crowd from the steps of the state Capitol. “It has taken Virginia many centuries, unfortunately, to learn this lesson. But today, we celebrate its truth.”
The action, which comes just days after the General Assembly wrapped up the 2016 legislative session, has the potential to expand the state’s voter rolls by up to 3.8 percent.
Virginia is one of 10 states that do not automatically restore rights upon completion of a felony sentence and one of only four states that require an application by the ex-felon and action by the governor, according to the McAuliffe administration, which cited research showing one of every five African-Americans of voting age in Virginia has lost the right to vote.
In his speech, McAuliffe anticipated a strong response from Republicans, who characterized the order as too broad, saying it gives murderers and rapists the right to vote, serve on juries, hold public office and notarize documents.