Governor Restores Voting Rights To More Than 200,000 Formerly Convicted Virginians

George Lavender April 24, 2016

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe

Virginia’s Gov­er­nor Ter­ry McAu­li­ffe restored the vot­ing rights of more than 200,000 peo­ple pre­vi­ous­ly con­vict­ed of felonies on Friday.

In a state­ment McAu­li­ffe said: Too often in both our dis­tant and recent his­to­ry, politi­cians have used their author­i­ty to restrict peo­ples’ abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in our democ­ra­cy. Today we are revers­ing that dis­turb­ing trend and restor­ing the rights of more than 200,000 of our fel­low Vir­gini­ans who work, raise fam­i­lies and pay tax­es in every cor­ner of our Commonwealth.” 

Accord­ing to a report by the Sen­tenc­ing Project, in 2010 near­ly 6 mil­lion peo­ple were unable to vote because of a felony con­vic­tion. The same report found that felony dis­en­fran­chise­ment dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect­ed African Amer­i­cans. Rates of dis­en­fran­chise­ment were four times high­er amongst African Amer­i­cans com­pared to the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. Vir­ginia was one of three states, where more than one in five African Amer­i­cans are dis­en­fran­chised because of a pri­or felony conviction. 

McCau­li­ffe is a promi­nent Clin­ton ally, lead­ing some Repub­li­cans to sug­gest the move was moti­vat­ed by elec­toral pol­i­tics in a swing state, than about civ­il rights. Virginia’s Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair­man John Whit­beck told Fox News vot­ing rights should be restored to those who have paid their debts to soci­ety” but there are lim­its.” He went on Gov. McAu­li­ffe could eas­i­ly have exclud­ed those who have com­mit­ted heinous acts of vio­lence … . His deci­sion doesn’t speak of mer­cy. Rather, it speaks of polit­i­cal opportunism.”

As Politi­co reports, the Gov­er­nor used an appear­ance on ABC to hit back at his critics.

Well, I would tell the Repub­li­cans quit com­plain­ing and go out and earn these folks’ right to vote for you. Go out and talk to them,” the Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nor told George Stephanopou­los. I find it very — and in fact, I think some of the lan­guage that has come out of the Repub­li­cans, I would tell them to be very care­ful at how they frame this, very care­ful of their rhetoric.”

Repub­li­cans, he con­tin­ued, have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to go out and get these indi­vid­ual new vot­ers to vote for them. But make your argu­ment.” Con­tin­ue read­ing…

Accord­ing to the New York Times’ Nate Cohn the move could have a small but sig­nif­i­cant impact on elec­tions in Vir­ginia. He notes that ex-felons are less like­ly to vote than non­felons, even when ex-felons are eli­gi­ble to vote” but that in a best-case sce­nario for Democ­rats re-enfran­chised vot­ers could add 29,400 extra votes for Democ­rats. In the 2012 elec­tion, that would have increased Mr. Obama’s mar­gin of vic­to­ry to 4.6 per­cent­age points from 3.9” Cohn writes.

There aren’t many things that can move the results of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by a half-point. The Clin­ton or Sanders cam­paign would undoubt­ed­ly spend mil­lions of dol­lars to earn that kind of extra edge. Mr. McAu­li­ffe has giv­en it to them.” Con­tin­ue reading…

Vir­ginia fol­lows Mary­land in restor­ing vot­ing rights to those con­vict­ed of felonies. The Mary­land leg­is­la­ture passed a bill in Feb­ru­ary restor­ing the rights of 40,000 Mary­lan­ders, about half of whom live in Baltimore.

George Laven­der is an award-win­ning radio and print jour­nal­ist based in Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @GeorgeLavender.
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