Advertisement

More than 180,000 Virginians still can’t vote a month after governor promised to restore rights

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). CREDIT: AP Photo
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). CREDIT: AP Photo

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has not kept the bold promise he made in July to sign 200,000 individual clemency grants in two weeks, to allow Virginians with felony records be able to vote this November.

On Monday, nearly a month later, McAuliffe announced that he had restored the rights of nearly 13,000 ex-offenders who had already tried to register to vote, but whose registrations were nullified by the Virginia Supreme Court.

“Extending voting rights to people who are living, working and paying taxes in our community is not a partisan act,” McAuliffe said, addressing accusations that the move is designed to help Hillary Clinton win the swing state in November. “I say to Democrats and Republicans alike: ‘Go earn these Virginians’ votes.’”

“I have a duty to all Virginians,” he added, “and I will not let them be condemned for eternity as inferior, second class citizens.”

“I will not let them be condemned for eternity as inferior, second class citizens.”

McAuliffe attempted in April to issue a blanket restoration of voting rights to all 206,000 Virginians with felony criminal records who had already completed their full sentences including supervised probation. He said the move would help “cast off Virginia’s troubled history” of racism and voter suppression, and noted that the current law disenfranchises one in five of the state’s African American voters.

Advertisement

As civil rights organizations hit the streets in an aggressive effort to find and register as many of the newly enfranchised voters as possible, Virginia’s Republican lawmakers sued the governor. In July, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed with them that McAuliffe had overstepped his executive authority. The ruling not only brought the registration effort to a screeching halt, it canceled the registrations of the roughly 13,000 people who had already registered.

McAuliffe then vowed to get around the court order by signing each clemency notice individually in just a few weeks. “I cannot accept that this overtly political action could succeed in suppressing the voices of many thousands of men and women who had rejoiced with their families earlier this year when their rights were restored,” he said.

But that proved easier said than done. The governor’s office has not been transparent about the reasons for the delay, but did say Monday that they conducted a “thorough review” of all the ex-offenders who had their voter registrations canceled, checking with the police and several other state agencies for each case.

Going forward, he promised, his office will continue to investigate the rest of the nearly 200,000 identified ex-offenders and restore the rights of those who meet all the appropriate criteria. They will prioritize the tens of thousands who have been out of prison for several decades.

“We will restore first those who have waited the longest,” McAuliffe said Monday. “The men and women who lost their rights have endured enough frustration and disappointment already.”

Advertisement

McAuliffe added that his office will release a public list on the 15th of each month with the names of those whose rights have been restored.

This implies that the process will take several months, leaving many ex-offenders unable to register by the early October deadline and barring them from participation in the presidential election.