Republicans demand answers after governor restores felons’ voting rights

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Governor Terry McAuliffe; William J. Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr.

RICHMOND, Va. — Republican leaders in both the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate were irked when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to more than 200,000 Virginians previously convicted of a felony.

House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, Jr. (R-James City) expressed their displeasure with the timing of the Democratic Governor’s action last week which happened two days after the Virginia General Assembly adjourned.

“We are deeply concerned by the flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia demonstrated by your action,” Howell and Norment said in a letter to the governor. “We are equally concerned by its timing, which was obviously intended to prevent any opportunity for legislative input. Similarly, but in a manner consistent with the history of this administration, General Assembly leadership was neither consulted nor informed of your intentions prior to the public press conference you conducted on Friday.”

As a result, the Republican leaders urged the Governor to call a special session of the Virginia General Assembly so lawmakers could discuss the governor’s actions and its impact.

“We request you remit to the General Assembly a full and detailed report of all 206,000 convicted felons whose rights have been restored, including but not limited to names, offense or offenses committed, and length of any sentence, probation or parole,” the letter continued. “Additionally, we request complete information regarding any fines, court costs, or restitution to victims still owed by these individuals.”

In response, the Governor’s Office said Governor McAuliffe had no intention to call a special session and that he acted within the framework of the Virginia Constitution.

“It is worth noting that today’s letter does not make any specific constitutional or legal argument but rather is a generic and unsubstantiated political attack. The letter also does not suggest any possible legislation or even any legislative problem to be remedied,” Brian Coy, spokesman for Governor Terry McAuliffe, said. “The Governor has no intention to provide the personal and private information requested in today’s letter. The Constitution plainly excludes restoration of rights orders from any reporting requirement to the General Assembly, and providing such information would no doubt be used to fuel the demonization and demagoguery that has characterized much of the response from certain quarters to this act of executive clemency so far.”

Previously, Governor McAuliffe said he restored voting rights to the 206,000 convicted felons because they have served their time.

“Virginians who have served their time and reentered society should do so as full citizens of our Commonwealth and country,” Governor McAuliffe on Friday. “Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy. We are reversing that disturbing trend and restoring the rights of more than 200,000 of our fellow Virginians who work, raise families and pay taxes in every corner of our Commonwealth.”

The Governor’s Office cited Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia that granted the Governor the authority to “remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction” of a felony.

“Governor McAuliffe issued the order despite determinations by previous governors, including then-Governor Timothy M. Kaine (D), that the Constitution of Virginia restricts the governor’s power to restore rights to a case-by-case basis,” Virginia House Republican spokesman Matthew Moran said. “Governor McAuliffe’s order violated this limitation on his power, simultaneously restoring these rights to 206,000 convicted felons.”

Dr. Christina Mancini, an assistant professor of criminal justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, said research showed restoring voting rights to people who served their time can benefit society.

“Efforts to assist ex-felons/offenders post-release, by providing them with a “stake” in their future success, has significant promise in reducing their subsequent offending. Specifically, assisting individuals with employment and finding stable housing substantially increases their odds of conformity – staying on the ‘straight and narrow.’ Under this perspective, it follows that additional investment – civic restoration – provides the same benefit,” she said. “Of course, as researchers we would want to evaluate the law once it is implemented.”