Virginia Governor Defiantly Gives Felons Voting Rights

     (CN) – Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday restored the voting rights of more than 13,000 felons, refusing to back down after an earlier attempt to do so was blocked by the state Supreme Court at the urging of Republican lawmakers.
     Last month, a divided Virginia Supreme Court set aside an executive order from the Democratic governor restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons.
     With its 4-3 decision, the state’s highest court sided with GOP lawmakers who argued McAuliffe ‘s action was unconstitutional.
     The immediate effect of the decision was to cancel the registrations of the more than 13,000 felons who had signed up to vote since the governor issued his executive order in April.
The ruling also disallowed other rights the governor had restored, including allowing felons to run for public office, serve on a jury and become a notary public.
     “Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict people’s ability to participate in our democracy,” McAuliffe said in a statement after he signed the order. “Today we are reversing that disturbing trend and restoring the rights of more than 200,000 of our fellow Virginians who work, raise families and pay taxes in every corner of our commonwealth,” he said.
     But Republican blanched, arguing the McAuliffe could not restore rights en masse but must consider each former offender’s case individually.
     Further, they accused McAuliffe of trying to add more minorities to the voting rolls ahead of the November election to help his friend Hillary Clinton win the critical swing state of Virginia for the Democrats.
     Virginia’s highest court ruled in July that governors cannot restore rights en masse, but must consider each offender on a case-by-case basis.
     After the ruling McAuliffe blasted the court for ignoring the “the clear text of the Constitution” and accused Republicans of trying to suppress voters’ voices.
     But he pledged to move forward, saying he won’t let the felon disenfranchisement “destroy lives and families, and destabilize communities.”
     On Monday, McAuliffe announced that rights-restoration letters have been sent to all those who registered to vote before the court acted.
     Speaking in front of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, the governor 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 his administration processed each felon’s paperwork individually to comply with the court’s ruling, and that it will continue to do so, giving priority to those who request it to do so, he said.
     A voter-registration application will be included in each of the rights-restoration letters sent to felons, the governor said.
     The deadline to register to vote in Virginia for November’s election is Oct. 17.
     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,” Howell said in a statement posted on Twitter. “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.”

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