Friday, April 22, 2016
Virginia governor extends right to vote to former felons
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) issued an executive order today extending the right to vote to felons who have completed their sentences and parole or probation, as The NYTimes's Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Erik Eckholm report here. The entire article is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts:
The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.
Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons...
Friday’s shift in Virginia is part of a national trend toward restoring voter rights to felons, based in part on the hope that it will aid former prisoners’ re-entry into society. Over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Only two states — Maine and Vermont — have no voting restrictions on felons.
Virginia has been one of four states — the others are Kentucky, Florida and Iowa — that impose the harshest restrictions, a lifetime ban on voting for felons. The Sentencing Project says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote...
Prof. A. E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia School of Law, the principal draftsman of a revised Constitution adopted by Virginia in 1971, agreed, and said the governor had “ample authority.” But Professor Howard, who advised Mr. McAuliffe on the issue, said the move might well be challenged in court. The most likely argument, he said, is that the governor cannot restore voting rights to an entire class of people all at once...
The governor’s action Friday will not apply to felons released in the future; his aides say Mr. McAuliffe intends to issue similar orders on a monthly basis to cover people as they are released.