In May, NPQ reported that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had issued an executive order to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 ex-inmates in time for the November election. Nonprofits and advocacy groups have been instrumental in educating and alerting ex-inmates about shedding their formerly disenfranchised status. However, Republican legislators pushed back on McAuliffe’s order almost immediately, and now they are taking the issue to the state Supreme Court to determine if the governor unconstitutionally overstepped his power in allowing the massive and unprecedented restoration of voting rights.
According to the Constitution, those convicted of a felony may lose their right to vote, but the policies vary from state to state. In Maine and Vermont, a felon will never lose the right to vote even while incarcerated. Previously in Virginia, as in other states currently, voting restoration was taken on a case-by-case basis. Under this new order, ex-felons in Virginia will automatically be able to vote after completing their sentence and parole or probation, with no required review of their individual cases.
According to state officials, if the state Supreme Court rules that the order was unconstitutional, it likely wouldn’t impact the restoration effort. While it would be a setback for criminal reform activists championing the order, McAuliffe could still individually grant orders to restore voting rights, which would have the same impact.
However, the order has had a dramatic effect on the ex-inmate community. Before the order, about a quarter of the African American population in Virginia was restricted from voting, according to the Washington Post. Since then, more than 11,000 ex-felons have registered to vote.
To read more of Shafaq Hasan's article, please click here.