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Virginia GOP filed lawsuit to block felons from voting

ALANNA DURKIN RICHER | 5/29/2016, 4:52 a.m.
Virginia Republicans asked the state’s highest court Monday to block more than 200,000 felons from voting in November, arguing that ...
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia Republicans asked the state’s highest court Monday to block more than 200,000 felons from voting in November, arguing that Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe abused his power by restoring the voting rights of thousands of convicts who’ve completed their sentences.

In a lawsuit GOP leaders filed in the Virginia Supreme Court, they stated McAuliffe violated the separation of powers by effectively suspending the state’s ban on voting by felons. They said McAuliffe is ignoring decades of practice, which has made clear that governors can restore voting rights only on a case-by-case basis.

“Gov. McAuliffe’s executive order defines the plain text of the Constitution, flouts the separation of powers, and has no precedent in the annals of Virginia history. The governor simply may not, with the stroke of the pen, unilaterally suspend and amend the Constitution,” their lawyers wrote in the suit.

The lawsuit was brought by House Speaker William Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment along with four other Virginia voters.

They’re asking the justices to prohibit election officials from registering felons and to cancel all such registrations since April 22. As of last week, election officials said nearly 4,000 felons had signed up to vote, media outlets reported.

McAuliffe’s administration has fiercely defended the action and says it’s confident the executive order will withstand the challenge. The governor says there’s nothing in Virginia’s Constitution that limits him to restoring rights only on an individualized basis and accused Republicans of trying to preserve “a policy of disenfranchisement” that has predominantly impacted Blacks.

“These individuals have served their time and are now living, raising families and paying taxes in our communities – this suit is an effort to continue to treat them as second-class citizens,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “This is simply the latest Republican attack on the voting rights of qualified Virginians who deserve a voice in their society, and we will oppose it vigorously.”

The governor’s order entitles every Virginian felon to vote, to run for public office, to serve on a jury and to become a notary public upon the completion of his or her sentence and any supervised release, parole or probation requirements as of April 22. The administration estimates this population to include about 206,000 people.

In a statement released to the press, the Democratic Party blasted the lawsuit that they stated would preserve a Jim Crow era law that disenfranchises voters.

“It’s shameful but not surprising that Virginia Republicans have filed a lawsuit in a desperate attempt to block Gov. Terry McAuliffe from restoring voting rights for 200,000 Virginians,” stated Virgie M. Rollins, the Black Caucus Chair of the Democratic National Committee. “Virginia is only one of four states where people with felony convictions must petition the Governor to regain their voting rights, and the origin of this discriminatory law dates back to 1902. At the time, the law was seen as a way to circumvent the 15th Amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote.

“It’s time to close the door on these types of laws, but the Republican Party is resolute in their desire to be on the wrong side of history. The GOP seems to believe that their easiest path to victory lies in restricting access to the ballot box. From Arizona to Wisconsin to North Carolina, Republican-controlled legislatures are making it harder for Americans to cast their ballots.