Last April, 206,000 convicted felons in Virginia were added to the voter rolls when Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order that restored the right of felons to vote. Hillary Clinton tweeted that she was “Proud of my friend @GovernorVA for continuing to break down barriers to voting.”
I want you back as a full citizen of the commonwealth. I want you to have a job, I want you paying taxes, and you can’t be a second-class citizen. — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
Court blocked order
Republicans, who noted that McAuliffe is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton, criticized the action claiming it was designed to benefit Democrats at the ballot box. Republicans sued to block the order, and in July the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Gov. McAuliffe had overstepped his authority and that he could restore voting rights only on a case-by-case basis. By September, Mr. McAuliffe had reviewed and approved 13,000 case files of ex-felons and restored their right to vote on an individual basis.
Hodgepodge of rules
States have a hodgepodge of laws related to voting rights for felons. In some states, such as Florida, Kentucky and Iowa people with felony convictions are permanently barred from voting. Most other states do not allow people in prison or on parole to vote but restore voting rights when the person exits parole or probation.
The concept of taking away voting rights from criminals has been around since the days of ancient Greece and Rome. The concept of ‘civil death,’ which included the loss of voting rights, was brought to America by the English colonists.
The issue of felon voting rights has long had political implications and has been cited by Donald Trump as one of the reasons that he believes that the 2016 election will be ‘rigged’ against him. Generally speaking, Republicans are opposed to extending voting rights to felons while Democrats are supportive.
Republican and Democratic politicians across the country are deeply divided over restoring the right to vote to felons, a political fracture that affects millions of convicted criminals. — Voting Wars
A key reason why Republicans are opposed to restoring voting rights for felons is their strong belief that it will disproportionally benefit Democratic candidates.
A 2014 study by political scientists concluded that ex-felons in a handful of states were much more likely to register as Democrats than as Republicans, although the authors said race and poverty, not criminality, were the likely reasons. — The New York Times
Polls show a majority for restoring vote
A 2014 Rasmussen Reports poll in 2014 found that 65% of Americans believe that a convicted felon should have their voting rights restored after serving their sentence. A more recent YouGov poll reported that 54% agreed that felons should have their right to vote restored after serving their sentence. However, the public strongly feels that people should not be able to vote while in prison.
The timing of Gov. McAuliffe’s executive order just months before the general election was unfortunate as it over politicized the issue. America’s criminal justice system is based on a dual concept of punishment and rehabilitation, and the restoration of voting rights when the sentence is complete makes sense to many Americans.