Like President Obama, Virginia Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe has just employed executive action to get around his legislature to restore voting rights to convicts.
In announcing the restoration of the vote for convicts, McAuliffe, a one-time Democratic National Committee chairman and major Clinton fundraiser, claimed that he was acting to turn back a “racist” law that prevents criminals from voting–a law, he claimed, written in the aftermath of the Civil War to disenfranchise African Americans.
“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” McAuliffe insisted as he announced the new policy.
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) April 22, 2016
But the move is drawing criticism. Even The New York Times noted that McAuliffe’s move was likely made to affect the presidential election in November.
The Virginia State GOP denounced the Governor’s move as one of political opportunism.
State party chairman John Whitbeck noted that the Republicans support a careful restoration of the vote for non-violent criminals, but what McAuliffe did was just a naked attempt to influence the upcoming election.
“This blanket action, undertaken for such blatant political purposes,” the state GOP said in a statement, “sullies the hard-won second chances of those who have worked so hard to overcome their mistakes. Restoration of rights should be a celebration of overcoming, not a transparent effort to win votes.”
Only two states–Maine and Vermont–have no restrictions against voting rights for convicted criminals. The other 48 states have various restrictions enacted.
McAuliffe’s move is not the only such attempt by a state executive to give criminals the right to vote. As he left office, Kentucky’s past Democrat Governor tried the same thing McAuliffe did by using executive orders to restore the vote to criminals. The recently elected Republican Governor, however, overturned the Democrat’s attempt to restore criminals’ right to vote in the Bluegrass State.
In its place, the Kentucky legislature passed a more modest bill to allow convicts to individually petition courts to restore their right to vote. The law excludes violent felons.
Exactly how many former inmates might register to vote is not known, but according to the liberal Mother Jones magazine, the Governor’s executive action could open the polling place to more than 200,000 convicted criminals in the Commonwealth.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.