| Miller Center; Creative Commons

Republican leaders challenge Terry McAuliffe on felon voting

Virginia Republicans want Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special legislative session over his executive order restoring certain civil rights to convicted felons.

Leaders in the state House and Senate are "deeply concerned by the flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia demonstrated by your action," House Speaker Will J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) wrote Tuesday afternoon in a letter to the Democratic governor. 

McAuliffe issued an executive order on Friday restoring voting rights, as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office, and to become notary publics, to an estimated 206,000 felons who have served their sentences and been released from prison.

His order extended to both non-violent and violent felons.

Howelll and Norment questioned the timing of the order, which was issued two days after the close of Virginia's General Assembly session for the year.

The lawmakers not only request the Governor reconvene the General Assembly in a special session but also demand McAuliffe provide "a full and detailed report of all 206,000 convicted felons whose rights have been restored, including but not limited to names, offense or offenses committed, and length of any sentence, probation or parole."

Howell and Norment also request "complete information regarding any fines, court costs, or restitution to victims still owed by these individuals."

Under Article V, Section 12 of Virginia's constitution, governors are given the authority to restore civil rights to those convicted of crimes.

The same provision requires governors to provide the General Assembly, while it is in session, "particulars of every case of fine or penalty remitted, of reprieve or pardon granted, and of punishment commuted, with his reasons for remitting, granting, or commuting the same."

Expansion of voter rolls generally favored Democrats in the past. 

"The conventional wisdom is that an expanded voter base benefits Democratic candidates," Christopher Newport University political scientist Dr. Quentin Kidd told AMI Newswire. "There is some political science research that has simulated what 100 percent voter turnout would look like, and it does lend some credibility to this hypothesis."

In Virginia, the addition of nearly 200,000 ex-felons to the voting rolls could be expected "to be a boost to Democrats in Virginia, but certainly not at a 1-1 level," Kidd said. "It's hard to say how many of these people will vote, and a certain percentage will vote Republican. But, I'd guess all things being equal that it will have a beneficial effect for Democrats."

But the issue of ex-convict voting has not always broken along party lines in the commonwealth. Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell restored voting rights to more non-violent ex-felons than any of his predecessors. McDonnell also made such grants immediate upon release.

In 2010, on the other hand, the ACLU of Virginia asked Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine to issue a blanket restoration of rights to ex-felons. In a letter responding to the request, Kaine staffer Mark Rubin wrote that it was a "complex question" with "more consequences than simply restoring voting rights because a restoration of rights also affects the ability of felons to serve on juries and to obtain concealed weapons permits."

Rubin wrote that a "blanket restoration within the context of current Virginia law would not be proper."