Monday, June 6, 2016

“I did my time; I did everything I was supposed to do. I paid the courts, I paid the fines and got my life back on track..."

...explains one woman who hopes to vote this November thanks to an executive order by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restoring voting rights to former felons. However, Virginia Republicans recently challenged the governor's authority to issue the order. As The New York Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg explains:

In issuing his sweeping order, Mr. McAuliffe made expansive use of his clemency powers to effectively nullify a Civil War-era provision in the State Constitution that barred convicted felons from voting for life — one of the harshest disenfranchisement policies in the nation. In an interview previewing his announcement, Mr. McAuliffe said his legal authority to do so is “ironclad.” But Republicans say the governor lacks blanket authority to restore voting rights and must instead do so on a case-by-case basis — as his predecessors in both parties have done.


“He’s really put a stick in the legislature’s eye,” said Speaker William J. Howell of the Virginia House of Delegates, the lead plaintiff in the Republican suit [challenging the governor's order]. He said the suit “has nothing to do with” the registration drive, and rejected Democrats’ accusations that Republicans were trying to suppress the black vote: “The governor has whipped them up.”


Still, race is a powerful subtext; African-Americans make up 19 percent of Virginia’s population, but 45 percent of those covered by the governor’s order. The Sentencing Project, a Washington research organization, says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote because of felony convictions.


“When you look at the fact that of the individuals who are most impacted by this, 45 percent of them are African-American, what conclusion can we draw?” asked State Senator Mamie Locke, chairwoman of the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus, which held “Voices for The Vote” rallies on Saturday in three Virginia cities.


Organizers of the registration drive say they would like to sign up 25,000 new voters in time to cast ballots on Election Day.


“That could make a difference,” said Bob Holsworth, a longtime political analyst in Virginia, noting that some state races in Virginia had been decided by relatively slim margins, of 5,000 or 6,000 votes.

As it stands, Iowa, Florida and Kentucky are the only other states that deny voting rights to felons for life.

Election Law, Right to Vote | Permalink


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