In a move called “unprecedented” by the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a sweeping order that grants 206,000 convicted felons voting rights just months before the presidential election.
McAuliffe’s order extends to non-violent and violent felons, including convicted murderers and rapists, an expert told the New York Times.
If some cannot abide by society’s standards, those standards are “barriers” that society “must break down,” McAuliffe affirmed in announcing the order.
“If we are going to build a stronger and more equal Virginia, we must break down barriers to participation in civic life for people who return to society seeking a second chance. We must welcome them back and offer the opportunity to build a better life by taking an active role in our democracy. I believe it is time to cast off Virginia’s troubling history of injustice and embrace an honest, clean process for restoring the rights of these men and women,” the governor said in a statement.
McAuliffe couched his move in terms of social justice and civil rights, having compared felon disenfranchisement to a poll tax. The order will likely boost black voter turnout in a critical swing state that could deliver Hillary Clinton — one estimate provided to the New York Times claimed as many as one in five blacks in Virginia lost their right to vote after being convicted for committing felonies.
According to the governor’s administration, McAuliffe also:
- “Reduced the waiting period for more serious offenders from five years to three.”
- “Classifying all drug-related convictions as non-violent.”
- “Shortening the application for more serious offenders from 13 pages to one page.”
- “Removed a requirement that individuals pay their court costs before they can have their rights restored.”
- “Ensuring that a notation will be included in an individual’s criminal record designating that his or her rights have been restored.”
McAuliffe worked as Clinton’s campaign chair in 2008 and has not ruled out serving as her running mate in 2016.