Ahead of 2016 Election, Virginia Governor to Let Some Felons Vote

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Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, will grant more than 200,000 felons the right to vote ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Mike Theiler/Reuters

Flying on the face of the state’s Republican-run legislature, Democratic Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will restore voting rights to some felons by executive order on Friday, The New York Times reported.

The order, which the Times reported has been planned in secrecy, will give felons who have served their time in prison and completed their parole the right to register to vote—potentially adding more than 200,000 new voters to the Virginia rolls ahead of the presidential election. Most of the affected are African-Americans, a core Democratic constituency, and McAuliffe's order is opposed by the state's Republican-led legislature.

But McAuliffe argues that the rules preventing felons from voting are holdovers from Civil War–era legislation designed to disenfranchise blacks. "There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans—we should remedy it,” McAuliffe told the Times.

In Virginia, typically a swing state, an extra 200,000 votes could make the difference in the 2016 presidential race. In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in Virginia by less than 150,000 votes. In 2008, Obama defeated John McCain by about 230,000 votes there.

According to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit criminal justice reform group, a fifth of blacks in Virginia are disenfranchised. The order covers those convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape, according to the Times.

The most recent poll from Virginia shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by 9 points.