Virginia governor restores voting rights to 200,000 felons

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Credit: The Office of Gov. Terry McAuliffe)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — More than 200,000 convicted felons will be eligible to vote and run for public office in Virginia under a sweeping executive order announced Friday by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe said his actions would help undo Virginia’s long history of trying to suppress the black vote.

He said he was certain he had the legal authority for the massive extension of voting rights, adding that he’d consulted with legal and constitutional experts, including Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

“Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict people’s ability to participate in our democracy,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “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.”

The governor’s action means that every Virginia felon who has completed their sentence and finished any supervised release, parole or probation requirements as of April 22 will be able to vote, run for public office, serve on a jury and become a notary public. The administration estimates that about 206,000 people will be impacted.

McAuliffe has made the restoration of rights of former convicts a priority of his administration. Before Friday’s order, the administration had restored the rights of more than 18,000 felons, which officials said is more than the past seven governors combined.

The Washington-DC based Sentencing Project estimates that nearly 6 million Americans are barred from voting because of laws impacting former felons. Maine and Vermont are the only states that don’t restrict the voting rights of convicted felons.

Such policies disproportionately impact African Americans, the group says. Virginia is among three states where more than one in five black adults have lost their voting rights, according to a recent Sentencing Project report.

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