Judicial Watch Sues Virginia Governor Over Order Granting 206,000 Felons Voting Rights

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Judicial Watch this week filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Virginia voters against Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other commonwealth official over McAuliffe’s executive order that attempts to restore voting rights to about 206,000 convicted felons.

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Bedford County, VA, requesting an injunction preventing the order’s enforcement.

On April 22, 2016, McAuliffe signed an executive order titled “Order for Restoration of Rights.”

McAuliffe reportedly plans to sign similar orders granting voting rights to groups of felons on a monthly basis.

The lawsuit states:

“Plaintiffs are registered voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  As a result of Defendants’ unlawful actions, 206,000 felons who, by law, should be ineligible to vote, are being, and will be, registered and permitted to vote.  Unless an injunction is granted, Plaintiffs lawful votes will be cancelled out, and their voting power will be diluted, by votes cast by individuals who are not eligible to vote under Virginia’s laws and Constitution.

Judicial Watch argues that this blanket restoration of rights to felons violates ‘provisions of the Virginia Constitution mandating that voting rights may only be restored on an individual basis, following a particular, individualized review and a finding of sufficient grounds for restoring such rights.’

Judicial Watch’s clients allege that their votes and the lawful votes of other Virginians will be cancelled out or diminished by felons who are not eligible to vote under Virginia’s laws and constitution. Further, these illegitimate votes may affect the 2016 presidential election:

The order provided that all felons who have completed their sentences by April 22, 2016 … shall have their voting rights immediately restored.  As a result, these felons are currently able to register to vote by mail; online; through the Virginia Department of Elections, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Virginia Public Libraries, and state government offices providing government assistance; and in voter registration drives.  Felons who register to vote pursuant to the Executive Order will be eligible to vote in the November 8, 2016 general election in Virginia.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to ensure the felons do not appear on Virginia’s voting rolls as eligible voters.

Back in January 2010, Mark E. Rubin, former counsel to then-Governor Tim Kaine, wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia: “a blanket restoration of voting rights [to Virginian convicted felons] within the context of current Virginia law would not be proper.”

In May 2013, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a memorandum titled “Report of the Attorney General’s Rights Restoration Advisory Committee.” The report concluded “[t]he Governor cannot institute by executive order an automatic, self-executing restoration of rights for all convicted felons in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“Gov. McAuliffe’s felon voting rights ‘executive order’ is outside the law and undermines free and fair elections in Virginia,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, “Voters in Virginia will see their legal votes erased and diminished by the hundreds of thousands of felons unleashed on the election system by Gov. McAuliffe.”

Robert Popper, director of Judicial Watch’s Election Integrity Project, is Judicial Watch’s lead attorney on the lawsuit and lead counsel for the plaintiffs.  Popper was formerly deputy chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.  Rick Boyer of the Boyer Law Firm in Lynchburg, VA, is serving as Judicial Watch’s local counsel for the plaintiffs.

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