Today, some 200,000 convicted felons living in Virginia will be able to vote again thanks to an executive order passed by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe that overturns a decades-old Constitutional law originally meant to disenfranchise black people.
“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans—we should remedy it,” McAuliffe admitted yesterday during a press conference. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”
In a statement today, McAuliffe said that his administration alone has re-enfranchised more people than all of Virginia's other previous governors combined. All convicted felons who are not currently on probation or parole will once again serve jury duty and vote after today's historic decision.
According to the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center, 1 out of every 5 black people of legal voting age in the state had been disenfranchised due to the Civil War-era law that McAuliffe did away with. Up until now, Virginia was one of the only states in the country that didn't automatically restore felons' voting rights to them once they'd served their time.
McAuliffe is well within his power to make this decision, but there are vocal members of his Republican opposition who aren't pleased. Virginia Republican Party chairman John Whitbeck took particular issue with the fact that all convicted felons, regardless of their crimes, will once again have the same rights that non-felons have.
"Governor McAuliffe could easily have excluded those who have committed heinous acts of violence from this order, yet he chose not to," Whitbeck said. "His decision to issue a blanket restoration, without regard to the nature of the crimes committed doesn't speak of mercy."
Whitbeck's alleges that McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign manager and former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee , is looking to curry favor with Virginia voters ahead of November's Democratic primary.
"This blanket action, undertaken for such blatant political purposes, sullies the hard-won second chances for those who have worked so hard to overcome their mistakes," Whitbeck continued. "Restoration of rights should be a celebration of overcoming, not a transparent effort to win votes."