NORFOLK, Va. (WHSV) — Governor Terry McAuliffe has restored more voting rights than any other governor in American history.
That's according to an announcement made by the governor in Norfolk on Thursday, in which he declared that he has individually restored the rights of 156,000 Virginians, which surpasses former Florida Governor Charlie Crist's restoration of about 155,000 people through a clemency board.
Governor McAuliffe initially planned to restore the voting rights of over 200,000 convicted felons in Virginia, but that move was blocked by the Virginia Supreme Court on July 22, 2016
The court ruled that the governor did not have authority to issue a blanket order like that.
In response, Gov. McAuliffe found a way around the court's decision by individually signing thousands of orders "to restore the fundamental rights of the citizens who have had their rights restored and registered to vote," according to his statement issued at the time.
At the time, Republicans accused McAuliffe of trying to add more Democrats to the voting rolls to aid presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in November; but the orders worked in a way that voting rights would not be restored until after the election.
“Expanding democracy in Virginia has been my proudest achievement during my time as Governor,” said Governor McAuliffe on Thursday. “Over the course of the last year, I have had the privilege to meet with many of the men and women affected by this order, and their stories inspired us as we continued this fight against the hostile opponents of progress. The Virginians whose rights we have restored are our friends and neighbors. They are living in our communities, raising families, paying taxes, and sending their children to our schools. Restoring their voting rights once they have served their time does not pardon their crimes or restore their firearm rights, but it provides them with a meaningful second chance through full citizenship.”
His office says that McAuliffe's administration had "taken several systematic steps to end voter disenfranchisement" before those mass orders, including re-classifying drug-related convictions as non-violent, shortening the application for more serious offenders from 13 pages to one page, removing a requirement that individuals pay their court costs before they can have their rights restored, and establishing a process so that a notation can be included in an individual’s criminal record indicating that his or her rights have been restored.
Governor McAuliffe has said that his system puts Virginia in line with 40 other states, but he would like to see automatic voter right restoration in Virginia's future. For that to happen, however, would require Virginia's General Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment. Efforts to do so in the past have failed.
The governor, a Democrat who is set to leave office in January, has said he views his rights restoration efforts as one of his most important legacies.
You can read the governor's full 'Restoration of Rights Policy' here.