Election Law

Relying on executive power, Virginia governor restores voting rights for more than 200,000 felons

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Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed an order to restore the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons in the state.

The order affects felons who have served their time and finished parole, report the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Even those convicted of murder and rape are covered by the order.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, is relying on his powers of executive clemency to justify the action, the Times says. The order is likely to be resisted by Republicans and could play a role in the presidential election for the swing state.

The order does not apply to felons who complete their sentences in the future. McAuliffe plans to issue monthly orders to cover those additional people.

Thirty-eight states automatically restore voting rights to most ex-felons, according to the Post. Virginia has a stringent process to restore voting rights, requiring the felon to apply and the governor to act, the Dispatch says.

University of Virginia law professor A. E. Dick Howard advised McAuliffe on using his authority to restore voting rights. He told the Times there could be a court challenge.

“I’m assuming that the complaint will be that he has to act one pardon at a time, one person at a time, that he’s not permitted to act wholesale,” Howard said. “I think the language of the Constitution and the theory of the pardoning power all point to the same conclusion—that he can.”

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