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Virginia Just Took Step to Uproot 'Tragic History of Voter Suppression'

Gov. McAuliffe restores voting rights to 13,000 felons

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday restored the voting rights of roughly 13,000 felons. (Photo: Sandor Weisz/flickr/cc)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday restored the voting rights of roughly 13,000 felons. (Photo: Sandor Weisz/flickr/cc)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday restored the voting rights of roughly 13,000 felons—a development aimed at stopping his state from being "an outlier in the struggle for civil and human rights."

"The Virginia Constitution is clear,” he said in his announcement at the Civil Rights Memorial on Capitol Square in Richmond. "I have the authority to restore civil rights without limitation."

In April, McAuliffe issued an order restoring voting rights to roughly 200,000 convicted felons. The move was widely heralded by civil rights organizations, and it was supported by 61 percent of Virginians. But in July the Supreme Court of Virginia sided with Republican lawmakers and struck down that order, finding that McAuliffe had overstepped his authority.

The governor said the new move is in compliance with that court decision because the orders were processed on an individual bases. NBC News adds :

The nearly 13,000 re-enfranchised Monday will now need to register to vote a second time. That's because in its ruling striking down McAuliffe's executive action, the Supreme Court ordered that local election boards remove the newly registered ex-felons from the rolls. McAuliffe said Monday the state would mail personalized rights restoration notifications, along with voter registration applications, to all 13,000 people affected.

The governor added that further individual restorations would follow. Following the July court ruling, McAuliffe had promised to "expeditiously sign" the orders for those 13,000 and said he'd work to sign them for the other 200,00 as well. However, as ThinkProgress reports, the governor said

his office will release a public list on the 15th of each month with the names of those whose rights have been restored.


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This implies that the process will take several months, leaving many ex-offenders unable to register by the early October deadline and barring them from participation in the presidential election.

Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan wrote earlier this year that "In this year's race for the White House, race is indeed central."

"Denial of the right to vote for those who have been convicted of felonies is another way that voter participation is suppressed on a massive scale," they added.

The non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice says felony disenfranchisement laws are "deeply rooted in our troubled racial history" and "have a disproportionate impact on minorities."

McAuliffe noted this as well, stating in his memo to the state General Assembly and local elections officials: "Virginia's felon disenfranchisement policy is rooted in a tragic history of voter suppression and marginalization of minorities, and it needs to be overturned."

According to the Sentencing Project, 5.8 million Americans are unable to vote because of a felony conviction, with such disenfranchisement affecting one of every 13 African Americans.

Iowa, Florida, and Kentucky continue the "antiquated and draconian policy" of permanently disenfranchising all those with any felony convictions.

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