Democrat Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order Friday restoring voting rights to 200,000 felons.
The law will allow about 200,000 felons who are no longer in prison, on probation or parole, to vote, the Washington Post reports. The decision could face legal challenges, though McAuliffe expressed confidence in his legal authority to issue the order.
“VA cannot achieve its full potential until all men and women are eligible for this fundamental right,” McAuliffe said on Twitter, adding that, “Virginia will no longer build walls and barriers to the ballot box – we will break them down.”
The decision will have political implications in a state that is key to the November presidential election. Experts point out that a significant portion of felons are black, and black voters lean heavily toward the Democrat party. McAuliffe, a fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, agreed his move would help the black community but denied his motives are political.
“Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict people’s ability to participate in our democracy,” McAuliffesaid in a statement. “Today 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.”
This isn’t McAuliffe’s first move to expand voting rights. He had previously given the right to vote to 18,000 felons and compared the voting restrictions to the poll tax and other laws used to keep minorities from voting.
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