Virginia Republicans Threaten Suit to Prevent Felons From Voting

05_02_Virginia_Voting_Rights
Republican lawmakers in Virginia are threatening to sue over Governor Terry McAuliffe's plan to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 ex-convicts. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Republican lawmakers in Virginia are threatening to sue to keep more than 200,000 felons from voting in the 2016 presidential election. The lawmakers object to Governor Terry McAuliffe's executive order, announced in April, allowing felons who have served their time and completed their parole to register to vote.

"Governor McAuliffe adopted an unprecedented view of executive authority and exceeded the powers granted to him by the Constitution of Virginia when he issued the order restoring the rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons," House Speaker William Howell said in a statement Monday.

"Governor McAuliffe's flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of law must not go unchecked," Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment added.

McAuliffe says rules keeping ex-convicts from voting are holdovers from the Civil War, designed to prevent blacks from going to the polls. But Republicans say the governor is overstepping his constitutional authority to help a longtime political ally and fellow Democrat, Hillary Clinton, according to The Washington Post. Most of those who would benefit from McAuliffe's decision are African-Americans, who tend to vote for Democrats.

Virginia is a swing state, and 200,000 votes could mean the difference between victory and defeat. In 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain in the state by only 230,000 votes.

The Republicans haven’t said when they would file a lawsuit, but they have hired Charles C. Cooper, a former assistant attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, to possibly challenge McAuliffe's decision in court. Cooper is best known for his unsuccessful defense of California's ban on gay marriage before the Supreme Court in 2013. Cooper will be paid with private and political funds, not taxpayer dollars, lawmakers said.

McAuliffe's Democratic predecessor, Timothy Kaine, now a U.S. senator, earlier considered a blanket restoration of voting rights to felons but decided against it, the Post reports.