RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe used his executive power to circumvent the Republican run legislature Friday morning by restoring the voting rights of 206,000 convicted felons.
As a result, those Virginians, who served their sentences and completed any other sentencing requirements as of April 22, 2016, will now regain the right to register to vote, run for office, serve on a jury and serve as a notary public.
In addition to previously restoring more than 18,000 Virginians’ voting rights, McAuliffe said his administration has also worked to reform the restoration process so Virginians who have served their time can reenter society as “full citizens.”
McAuliffe said “too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy.”
“If we are going to build a stronger and more equal Virginia, we must break down barriers to participation in civic life for people who return to society seeking a second chance,” McAuliffe said. “We must welcome them back and offer the opportunity to build a better life by taking an active role in our democracy. I believe it is time to cast off Virginia’s troubling history of injustice and embrace an honest, clean process for restoring the rights of these men and women.”
Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia grants the Governor the authority to “remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction” of a felony.
McAuliffe’s order cannot be revoked even if a new governor rescinds it.
Supporters of the move said McAuliffe’s actions overturned a Civil War-era provision in Virginia’s constitution that worked to disenfranchise black voters.
Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck pointed to Governor Bob McDonnell’s work restoring voting rights for nonviolent felons.
“Mercy requires that we as Virginians be a Commonwealth of second chances. But there are limits,” Whitbeck said. “Governor McAuliffe could easily have excluded those who have committed heinous acts of violence from this order, yet he chose not to. His decision to issue a blanket restoration, without regard to the nature of the crimes committed doesn’t speak of mercy. Rather, it speaks of political opportunism.”
Whitbeck said the governor’s action “sullies the hard-won second chances for those who have worked so hard to overcome their mistakes.”
He also said voting rights restoration “should be a celebration of overcoming, not a transparent effort to win votes.”
The Commonwealth joins Maine and Vermont as having no voting restrictions on felons.
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Tweets from the ceremony:
Here’s the full text of McAuliffe’s order:
Order for the Restoration of Rights
TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME – GREETINGS:
WHEREAS, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia requires that all those convicted of a felony be deprived of their civil right to vote unless they have their civil rights restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority; and
WHEREAS, it is estimated that approximately 206,000 Virginians are permanently disenfranchised from participating in political life due to prior felony convictions even after completing their court-ordered sentences; and
WHEREAS, such disenfranchisement disproportionately affects racial minorities and economically disadvantaged Virginians; and
WHEREAS, Virginians have increasingly advanced the ideals of equality of all races and peoples, while rejecting the indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts; and
WHEREAS, the Governor is empowered by Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia “to remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction,” thus to restore the political rights of any persons disqualified by Article II, Section 1; and
WHEREAS, the power granted to the Governor under Article V, Section 12 to remove political disabilities is absolute and without any limitation not expressly stated within the Constitution of Virginia; and
WHEREAS, all individuals who have served the terms of their incarceration and any periods of supervised release deserve to re-enter society on fair and just terms, including to participate in the political and economic advancement of Virginia; and
WHEREAS, the restoration of civil rights has been noted to achieve substantial benefits for those individuals who have felt long-exiled from mainstream life; and
WHEREAS, democracy is strengthened by having more citizens involved in the political process;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terence R. McAuliffe, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, by and through the authority vested in me under Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia, do hereby order the removal of the political disabilities consequent upon conviction of a felony imposed by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia from all those individuals who have, as of this 22nd day of April 2016, (1) completed their sentences of incarceration for any and all felony convictions; and (2) completed their sentences of supervised release, including probation and parole, for any and all felony convictions. The civil rights restored by this Order are: (1) the right to vote; (2) the right to hold public office; (3) the right to serve on a jury; and (4) the right to act as a notary public. Nothing in this Order restores the right to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.
Given under my hand and under the Lesser Seal of the Commonwealth at Richmond, on April 22, 2016 in the 240th year of the Commonwealth.
Governor of Virginia
Secretary of the Commonwealth