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Lawmakers Challenge Bill Allowing Felons To Vote In Virginia Elections

Conservative lawmakers in Richmond are attempting to block Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order which restored the voting rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons in Virginia. To support that effort, opponents of the governor’s action are bringing in a former Department of Justice official under President Ronald Reagan, Charles Cooper.

Proponents of the blockage claim the governor overstepped his state constitutional authority when he signed the historic executive order. The move could have wide-ranging political ramifications in the 2016 general presidential election as Virginia is poised to continue its place as a key swing state.

The governor cites language in Virginia’s Constitution, stating “The governor shall have power … to remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction for offenses committed prior or subsequent to the adoption of this Constitution.” Under this authority, Gov. McAuliffe issued his decree to restore the voting rights of felons in the state.

Roots of felon disenfranchisement stretch back over 100 years

Virginia’s disenfranchisement of felons was born out of the state’s 1902 convention with a focus on preventing African Americans in Virginia from voting. Other legislation presented at that same convention included poll taxes and literacy tests designed to limit the political power of African Americans.

Thirty-eight other states (including the District of Columbia) automatically restore the voting rights of felons after they complete their sentences or parole. This puts Virginia as one of only a handful of states continuing the practice of preventing felons from voting, perhaps because of political affiliation. Many analysts suspect individuals convicted of felonies tend to vote Democrat and therefore allege the move by Republican lawmakers is politically motivated.

Over 200,000 individuals affected by the law

While Gov. McAuliffe is not the only state executive to restore voting rights to felons, his order certainly goes further than any other. In addition to allowing 206,000 convicted felons to vote, the executive action would allow these individuals to run for election, become notaries, and serve on juries.

This move, opponents of the governor’s action claim, goes far beyond the powers vested in him by the state’s constitution and any attempt to restore the rights of such a large number of felons should be done through passing legislation. Republican lawmakers vow to use private funds to fight the governor’s order but it remains unclear exactly where these funds will come from.

Virginia election law attorneys

As a law firm with practice areas in election law, Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC will continue to actively monitor the situation involving the fight over Virginia felon voting rights. The Virginia election law attorneys of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC regularly represent the legal interests of political candidates and advised in in various aspects of state campaign laws.

Additionally, our law firm helps political candidates in litigation related to election recounts, contested elections, and investigating campaign violations. To contact our office about these and other election law issues, contact our office for a consultation about your case.

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