More than 13,000 new voters were added to the rolls in Virginia at the stroke of a pen after Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to some felons on Aug. 21.
The move comes more than four months after McAullife tried to restore voting rights to around 200,000 felons with an executive order, and a month after the state's supreme court halted that plan, arguing that the governor had overstepped his authority.
With his initial effort shot down, McAuliffe restored voting rights to the much smaller pool of former convicts while presenting a plan to review the rest on a case-by-case basis. The state will begin by reviewing the cases of offenders who have been out of the criminal justice system for the longest, according to WTOP.
The issue has become controversial in Virginia as the Democratic governor battled state Republicans over the plan, with both sides winning small victories.
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Meanwhile, some former convicts say they've been waiting a long time to have their right to vote restored. Among them is Herb Williams, a 62-year-old minister who was convicted of drug and robbery offenses two decades ago.
“I just feel like part of me was stolen,” Williams told The Washington Post. “People who have redeemed themselves -- they should not continue to be marked people.”
While support for McAuliffe's executive order is mostly split along party lines, even those who support the governor's efforts are wary about his motivations, notes The Washington Post. While 45 percent told a new Washington Post poll that they believe McAuliffe acted because he believed it was the right thing to do, 42 percent said he did it to help Democrats win elections in Virginia.
McAuliffe insists he's doing it out of a moral obligation
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“Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement policy is rooted in a tragic history of voter suppression and marginalization of minorities and need to be overturned,” he wrote to lawmakers and prosecutors, according to WTOP.
The battle between McAuliffe and state Republicans isn't over. State House Speaker Bill Howell, a Republican, said McAuliffe's plan doesn't differentiate between violent and nonviolent offenders.
“Undoubtedly, the governor has restored the rights of some deserving citizens," Howell wrote in a statement. "But, there is also no doubt that he has restored the rights of some odious criminals. The people of full Virginia deserve a full explanation of the policy."