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Virginia restores voting rights to 200,000 convicted felons ahead of November election

By Amy R. Connolly
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to some 200,000 convicted felons, also giving them the right to run for office and serve on a jury. Photo from Terry McAuliffe/Twitter
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to some 200,000 convicted felons, also giving them the right to run for office and serve on a jury. Photo from Terry McAuliffe/Twitter

RICHMOND, Va., April 22 (UPI) -- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to some 200,000 convicted felons Friday, also giving them the right to run for office and serve on a jury.

The Democratic governor announced he used his executive power to restore rights to 206,000 ex-felons who have completed their sentences as of April 22, circumventing the Republican-run legislature in the battleground state. The order applies to felons who have served their time and completed any supervised release, parole or probation requirements, as well as those who do so in the future.

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"Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples' ability to participate in our democracy," he said. "Today we are reversing that disturbing trend and restoring the rights of more than 200,000 of our fellow Virginians who work, raise families and pay taxes in every corner of our commonwealth."

The sweeping order could have an impact in the upcoming presidential election. Virginia, widely seen as a swing state, played a decisive role in the 2012 election that saw President Barack Obama take a narrow victory against Republican Mitt Romney. Exit polls showed Obama won by big margins among black voters, particularly in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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States laws across the country vary on voting rights for ex-offenders, but 2010 estimates by the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project show one out of every 13 African Americans is prohibited from voting. Kentucky, Iowa and Florida permanently revoke voting rights for convicted felons.

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, lauded the governor's order, saying, "hundreds of thousands of Virginians are set to regain their voice in our political process,"

"We have long known that laws that disenfranchise voters based on prior mistakes have a disparate impact on communities of color who have been historically targeted by our nation's broken system of incarceration," she said. "While we celebrate today in Virginia, we know the work continues in states like Florida, where people remain denied the restoration of their fundamental right to vote."

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