At the end of April, Virginia Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies. Unhappy state Republicans said on Monday they would file a lawsuit contesting the order, which, according to them, was designed to bulk up Democratic voter rolls in time for the general election.
The origins of Virginia’s no-felon voter laws were deeply racist—put in place just after the Civil War and tightened over time to make sure newly freed black citizens wouldn’t have too much (or any) political power. McAuliffe’s order is expected to allow some 206,000 people to vote again, many of whom are black and expected to vote Democratic. That can’t stand, Republican lawmakers said in a statement. From the Associated Press:
GOP lawmakers argue the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority with a clear political ploy designed to help his friend and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clintonget votes in the important swing state of Virginia this fall.
“Gov. McAuliffe’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of must not go unchecked,” Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norment said in a statement. He said his predecessors and previous attorneys general examined this issue and concluded Virginia’s governor does not have the power to issue blanket restorations.
Only three states—Iowa, Kentucky, and Florida—strip felons of voting rights for life. It’s unclear yet when or where state Republicans will file the suit.
Update, 2:20 p.m.:
McAuliffe’s office responds:
Last month Governor McAuliffe acted on his constitutional authority to restore the civil and voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Virginians and bring our Commonwealth into line with 40 other states. The Governor is disappointed that Republicans would go to such lengths to continue locking people who have served their time out of their democracy. While Republicans may have found a Washington lawyer for their political lawsuit, they still have yet to articulate any specific constitutional objections to the Governor exercising a power that Article V Section 12 clearly grants him. These Virginians are qualified to vote and they deserve a voice, not more partisan schemes to disenfranchise them.
McAuliffe hugs Hillary Clinton when she arrives for a get out the vote rally, March 2016. Photo via AP