The Saga of Felon Voting in Virginia

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The Saga of Felon Voting in Virginia

Governor Terry McAuliffe is determined to restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Virginians with felony records. It appears he will get his way prior to Election Day.

He first attempted to do so in April, when he announced a blanket order to restore voting rights to over 200,000 felons, saying, “There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it.”

Republicans said that the governor was overstepping his constitutional powers. Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norment said, “Gov. McAuliffe's flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of law must not go unchecked.” By a 4-3 vote, the Virginia Supreme Court sided with the Republicans and invalidated the governor’s action.

That did not deter Governor McAuliffe, however. He vowed to restore voting rights on a case-by-case basis to comply with the court decision. He is in the process of doing that, already restoring rights for 13,000 individuals.

Some Republicans claim the governor is playing politics by focusing efforts on felons who primarily live in Democratic areas of the commonwealth. Supporters of Governor McAuliffe point out that the man who preceded McAuliffe in the governor’s mansion, Republican Bob McDonnell, also restored the voting rights of some felons.

If McAuliffe were governor in most other states, this would not be an issue. Virginia is one of only 9 states that do not grant felons voting rights. Most states restore voting rights to felons after they serve their sentences. Some restore these rights to felons even while they are on probation or parole. Two states, Maine and Vermont, even allow prisoners to vote.

What do you think? Should felons be able to vote?

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