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Va. Court Overturns Orders Allowing Felons to Vote

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    Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe reacts to the state's highest court striking down an executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons who've served their time. Darcy Spencer reports. (Published Friday, July 22, 2016)

    The Virginia Supreme Court overturned Gov. Terry McAuliffe's executive orders that allowed more than 200,000 convicted felons to vote in the state.

    In an order posted on the court's website late Friday, the court said the orders were unconstitutional and ordered election officials throughout the state not to enforce them.

    The orders in April by McAuliffe, a Democrat, had been challenged by Republican state lawmakers. They had ordered that voting rights could not be restored to a group, but had to be restored individually.

    McAuliffe said in a statment he would sign almost 13,000 individual orders for citizens who've already had their rights restored and registered to vote.

    Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. issued the following statement on the ruling:

    “The Supreme Court of Virginia delivered a major victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our nation was founded on the principles of limited government and separation of powers. Those principles have once again withstood assault from the executive branch. This opinion is a sweeping rebuke of the governor’s unprecedented assertion of executive authority. We are grateful to the justices of the Supreme Court for their prompt and thorough attention to this case.”

    McAuliffe had said his actions would help undo Virginia's long history of trying to suppress votes.

    "Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict people's ability to participate in our democracy," McAuliffe said in a statement earlier this year.

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    Critics accused him of trying to pad voter rolls before Election Day.

    But McAuliffe has already had to rescind the right to vote from 132 sex offenders who were mistakenly added back to the state's list of eligible voters, even though they were still in civil confinement.

    McAuliffe has made the restoration of rights of former convicts a priority of his administration. Before his executive orders, the administration had restored the rights of more than 18,000 felons, which officials said is more than the past seven governors combined. 

    The Washington-based Sentencing Project estimates that almost 6 million Americans are barred from voting because of laws disenfranchising former felons.

    Such policies disproportionately prevent African Americans from voting, the group says. Virginia is among three states where more than one in five black adults have lost their voting rights, according to a recent Sentencing Project report.