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Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an order restoring voting rights to over 200,000 felons in that state. The order applies to both violent and non-violent felons and extends to the right to vote, to sit on a jury, to serve in elected office or to become a notary, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Republican critics are not happy. The rights restoration move is seen by critics as highly political, an effort on McAuliffe's part to boost Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in November, as Virginia is a swing state. Let's examine.
An Unprecedented Move
In most but not all states, convicted felons lose the right to vote for varying amounts of time. Each state decides the extent of disenfranchisement and the process for restoring rights. Virginia is one of ten states that do not automatically restore rights after completion of a felony sentence and reportedly one of the four most stringent states with respect to its application process for civil rights restoration.
Although the governor's move today was called "unprecedented" by local media, there is apparently a legal basis for it in Virginia law. The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports that it accessed a confidential research draft of the order signed by McAuliffe today, which stated, "Under the Constitution of Virginia, the governor has the authority to 'remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction' for 'felonies."'
Governor McAuliffe's announcement that he would restore civil rights to more than 200,000 people was met with dismay by some Virginians. The state's speaker of the House William J. Howell, a Republican, said in a statement, "The singular purpose of Terry McAuliffe's governorship is to elect Hillary Clinton president of the United States. This office has always been a stepping stone to a job in Hillary Clinton's Cabinet."
There was also criticism about his order's failure to distinguish between violent and non-violent felons. John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a statement, "Mercy requires that we as Virginians be a commonwealth of second chances. But there are limits."
"Governor McAuliffe could easily have excluded those who have committed heinous acts of violence from this order," Whitbeck continued, "yet he chose not to. His decision to issue a blanket restoration, without regard to the nature of the crimes committed doesn't speak of mercy. Rather, it speaks of political opportunism."
Although his colleagues don't sound very happy about it, McAuliffe is not done yet. The estimated 206,000 people whose rights will be restored with today's order are just the beginning. The Virginia governor is also expected to issue periodic orders restoring rights to people who have completed the terms of their incarceration and probation after today.
If you have been accused of crime, speak to a criminal defense attorney today. Don't delay. Many lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.