Could restoration of felon voting rights complicate presidential election?

(WRIC Photo)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — “Let’s let people back in. Second chances matter. They’ve served their time. They’re in our communities. Why not let them vote?”

Those words came from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe as he defended what has become a controversial decision in the Commonwealth: Restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Since making the announcement on the steps of the Capitol last Friday, republicans have hit back saying the governor’s actions were determined to be illegal by three previous governors and even his own office.

One lawmaker says he asked about blanket restoration after McAuliffe was elected.

“Have you all looked into blanket restoration and the secretary of commonwealth looked at me and said we’ve looked at it and it’s illegal to do blanket restoration,” said Delegate Greg Habeeb, a Republican from Roanoke.

Delegate Habeeb has worked on passing a bill that would automatically restore the voting rights of non-violent felons. Habeeb doesn’t believe the governor’s executive order will hold up but still could impact this fall’s election.

“You have millions of voters today whose vote may be diluted by other voters who aren’t entitled to vote,” said Habeeb.

And while Habeeb believes it will be settled in court before the election, some experts aren’t so convinced.

“It seems likely that any constitutional challenge would reach the highest court that it needs to, after the election,” said political analyst Richard Meagher.

Meagher says while ex-felons are likely to vote democrat, they don’t usually turn out to the polls. But any amount could be huge in a split state.

“In a very evenly-divided state like Virginia, any number of voters, particularly on one side or the other, could be really advantageous,” said Meagher.

Meanwhile, the governor has said he believes his order will withstand any case in court.

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