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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Virginia Governor Bypasses Court Ruling To Help 200,000 Ex-Felons Vote

BY ALICE OLLSTEIN JUL 23, 2016 10:36 AM
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is taking action to restore the voting rights of thousands of ex-offenders in the state after a court decision Friday put them in jeopardy. He’s getting around the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling against him by signing 200,000 individual clemency grants to the state’s ex-offenders to ensure their right to vote in November.
Governor Terri McAuliffe
In a 4 to 3 decision late Friday, the Supreme Court of Virginia stripped away the voting rights from 200,000 ex-offenders who had recently regained full civil rights through one of McAuliffe’s executive orders, effectively disenfranchising one in five of the state’s African American voters.
The court said the governor lacks the authority under the state constitution to issue a blanket rights restoration to everyone in the state with a felony record who has already served their full sentence. A study earlier this year found that the vast majority of those impacted — 80 percent — committed non-violent crimes. Most have been out of prison for more than a decade, and African Americans are disproportionately represented. Forty-six percent of the ex-offenders are black, though blacks make up less than 20 percent of the state’s population.
The non-partisan group that has for months been leading the charge on registering ex-offenders to vote, New Virginia Majority, released a statement saying the ruling “reaffirms the Commonwealth’s Jim Crow legacy,” noting that the vast majority of states restore voting rights upon release from prison.
“Excluding Virginians from the ballot, even after they’ve paid their debts to society, is a cruel, inhumane reminder of past mistakes,” said Tram Nguyen, the group’s executive director. “Importantly, today’s ruling validates entrenched interests in the Virginia General Assembly bent on silencing a large swath of Black Virginians in order to maximize their political power.”
But just hours after the decision, McAuliffe vowed to push back by signing clemency grants for the state’s ex-offenders one by one.

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