Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said Friday that Gov. Terry McAuliffe acted within his constitutional authority when he restored voting rights to more than 200,000 felons. Herring (D), acting as the state’s attorney, defended the governor’s action in a court filing in which he also objected to Republicans’ request for the Virginia Supreme Court to accelerate the timetable for a lawsuit they filed this week to stop the restoration of rights. The legal battle is the latest showdown between the Democratic governor and his allies and the Republican-controlled General Assembly over voting rights. Republican leaders have accused McAuliffe (D) of trying to add potential voters to the rolls to bolster the presidential bid of his friend, Hillary Clinton. McAuliffe denied any political motives and framed the order as a removal of the last vestige of laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests that disproportionately affected the voting rights of African Americans. One in 4 African Americans in Virginia had been banned from voting because of laws restricting the rights of those with convictions.
In their lawsuit, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) and four voters argued that McAuliffe could not legally restore rights to that many felons with one sweeping executive order.
They want the court to cancel the registrations of all felons who have signed up to vote since McAuliffe’s April 22 order.
As of Tuesday, that number was close to 5,000, according to the state Department of Elections.