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Virginia Governor Removes Ban on Ex-Felons Voting
Ex-Felons Can Now Vote in Virginia
Governor Terry McAuliffe launched Virginia into the forefront of a nationwide debate over easing restrictions on criminals recently when he restored the voting rights for more than 200,000 convicted felons.
He said there was no reason to continue punishing convicts who have served their time, particularly considering the voting restriction fell most heavily on African Americans.
His executive order allows all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. It includes persons convicted of violent crimes, such as murder and rape.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, had to sidestep Republican critics, who said the order could tilt the vote slightly in favor of Democrats during the upcoming election.
But McAuliffe said political maneuvering was not the issue so much as reintegrating convicts into society. Until last week, Virginia, Florida, Kentucky and Iowa led the nation with the most severe voting right restrictions, banning convicted felons for life.
McAuliffe justified his order under a legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority.
Virginia Republican Party Chairman John Whitbeck said in a statement that McAuliffe was wrong to restore voting rights to criminals who have committed terrible crimes.
The District of Columbia already allows felons to vote after they serve their sentences.
In Maryland, Republican Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill to restore voting rights to felons. However, Democratic state lawmakers overrode his veto in February, thereby allowing about 44,000 former prisoners to register to vote.
About 5.85 million Americans are denied voting rights because of felony convictions, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington public policy and research organization.
Twenty states have eased their voting restrictions on felons in the past two decades, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice.
Virginia’s lifetime voting ban dates from state laws approved during the Civil War and expanded in 1902.
While McAuliffe’s advisors researched the voting ban for felons, they found a 1906 statement from Carter Glass, a Virginia senator, who said state lawmakers needed bans on felons voting to enforce white supremacy.