Virginia GOP filing lawsuit to block felons from voting

Gov. Terry McAuliffe
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Republicans said Monday that they will ask the state's highest court to block more than 200,000 felons from voting in November, calling Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's executive order restoring the voting rights of convicts who've served their sentences an unconstitutional abuse of power.

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

"The requirement that the Governor restore political rights on an individualized basis is not a mere formality," they write in their lawsuit. "Rather, it is itself a component of the separation of powers. When the Chief Executive must dispense clemency on a case-by-case basis, the public and the coordinate branches may hold him accountable for his choices in the political arena."

The lawsuit is being filed by House Speaker William Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment along with four other Virginia voters. They said they plan to file the petition Monday after providing notice to McAuliffe and the other respondents.

They're asking the court 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.

Republicans say McAuliffe's action is a political move designed to help Democrats win the White House in November. McAuliffe has rejected suggestions that politics were involved in his decision making.

McAuliffe has stood his action, arguing there's nothing in Virginia's Constitution that limits him to restoring rights only on an individualized basis. He says people who've served their time should be allowed to have their voices heard this fall.

The governor's order entitles every Virginia 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.

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