Judicial Watch Argues McAuliffe Can't Restore Voter Rights for Felons

Virginia governor's executive order granted voting rights to 206,000 convicted felons

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said his executive order was a continuation of previous Virginia governors' work to help felons regain their right to vote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A conservative government watchdog group has filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's executive order that restored voting rights for hundreds of thousands of convicted felons.  

In its complaint , filed Monday, Judicial Watch said McAuliffe's order  overstepped his bounds and that adding 206,000 felons to the voting rolls dilutes and cancels out the votes of legally registered Virginians.  

The only way to restore any person's voting rights is through an individualized review of each application for reinstatement, Judicial Watch argued.   

“Governor McAuliffe’s felon voting rights ‘executive order’ is outside the law and undermines free and fair elections in Virginia,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton wrote in a press release.  “Voters in Virginia will see their legal votes erased and diminished by the hundreds of thousands of felons unleashed on the election system by Governor McAuliffe.”  

McAuliffe's executive order states that any felon who has served his time and completed supervised release by April 22 will then become eligible to vote. The filing deadline in Virginia for the Nov. 8 general election is 22 days before Election Day.    

Republicans have argued that restoring the rights of convicted felons to vote is a political move to help increase votes for Democrats.    

Republican leaders in the legislature filed a similar lawsuit with the Virginia Supreme Court over the executive order. McAuliffe issued a statement in response to that suit saying the order aimed "to preserve a policy of disenfranchisement that has been used intentionally to suppress the voices of qualified voters, particularly African Americans, for more than a century."  

The governor's office, in a summary of his order , said the action is a continuation of previous Virginia governors' work to help felons regain their right to vote.   

"Governor McAuliffe’s action is simply the culmination of that progress and a reflection of the moral and civic imperative to fully welcome individuals who have served their time back into society," the summary said. The lawsuit was filed in the circuit court of Bedford County and the plaintiffs have asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop felons from being placed on Virginia's voting rolls.

Contact Smith at  jeremysmith@cqrollcall.com   and follow him on Twitter  @JeremySilkSmith .

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