Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an order Friday to restore the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons, a sweeping move that could benefit his fellow Democrats in a critical swing state in the November presidential election. Under the order, convicted felons who have served their sentences and completed parole and probation will immediately regain the right to vote. The order applies to nonviolent and violent offenders, including people convicted of murder and rape. To cover individuals who complete their sentences in the future, Mr. McAuliffe directed the secretary of the commonwealth to prepare a similar order each month. “It is time to cast off Virginia’s troubled history of injustice and embrace an honest, clean process for restoring the rights of these men and women,” said Mr. McAuliffe.
Voting-rights groups hailed the move. “Today, hundreds of thousands of Virginians are set to regain their voice in our political process,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C.
But Republicans, who control the Legislature, accused Mr. McAuliffe of seeking to help his party by creating a potential new pool of voters who are disproportionately African-American and therefore likelier to vote Democratic.
Mr. McAuliffe’s “decision to issue a blanket restoration, without regard to the nature of the crimes committed, doesn’t speak of mercy,” said John Whitbeck, chairman of the Virginia GOP. “Rather, it speaks of political opportunism.”