Virginia Governor Doubles Down on Effort to Restore Voting Rights to Felons

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After begin denied by his state’s Supreme Court in July, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday reinstated the voting rights of 13,000 released felons. His Restoration of Rights policy, announced in a speech delivered at Capitol Square in Richmond, is based on McAuliffe’s “belief in the power of second chances and his determination that our Commonwealth will no longer treat these individuals like second class citizens,” according to the official policy memo.

Tuesday’s announcement follows a July 23 decision by Virginia’s Supreme Court that struck down McAuliffe’s previous attempt at restoring voting rights to convicted felons. That case was brought to the court by Republican lawmakers who saw his blanket voting restoration efforts as unconstitutional. The court agreed. “The assertion that a Virginia Governor has the power to grant blanket, group pardons is irreconcilable” with Virginia’s constitutional requirement “that the Governor communicate to the General Assembly the ‘particulars of every case’ and state his ‘reasons’ for each pardon,” the 4-3 decision found.

By reviewing each particular case of the 13,000 felons whose voting rights he is reinstating, as he claimed he did, McAuliffe is avoiding the “blanket, group pardons” that the Supreme Court’s July decision reprimanded. “If a person is judged to be safe to live in the community, he or she should have a full voice in its governance,” the memo said, while adding Virginia’s current policy regarding convicted felons’ voting rights as being “rooted in a tragic history of voter suppression and marginalization of minorities, and it needs to be overturned.”

A Washington Post poll found that 61 percent of Virginians agree with restoring voting rights to felons. But they are more divided as to what McAuliffe’s intentions are–45 percent of those polled said that he simply wanted to do the right thing, while 42 percent said he wanted to boost voter turnout for Democrats. Whatever his motivations, it seems that the Governor is proceeding with his plan. The policy lays out two steps toward restoring felons’ voting rights as follows:

Step One: Re-restoring the rights of individuals who had their voter registration canceled as a result of the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision.

Step Two: Restoring the rights of other qualified individuals.

“The Virginia Constitution is clear,” McAuliffe said during his speech in Richmond, “I have the authority to restore civil rights without limitation.”

To read more about McAuliffe’s effort, check out Law Street’s previous coverage of the issue.

Alec Siegel
Alec Siegel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. When he’s not working at Law Street he’s either cooking a mediocre tofu dish or enjoying a run in the woods. His passions include: gooey chocolate chips, black coffee, mountains, the Animal Kingdom in general, and John Lennon. Baklava is his achilles heel. Contact Alec at ASiegel@LawStreetMedia.com.



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