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McAuliffe enfranchises over 200,000 convicted felons

Measure passed Friday using executive order

<p>Enright said she&nbsp;thought the governor’s order was a shocking move especially since it came right in the middle of his term.</p>

Enright said she thought the governor’s order was a shocking move especially since it came right in the middle of his term.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons Friday morning, according to The New York Times.

The order, mandated by executive power, avoids the Republican-majority legislature in order to overturn a constitutional provision from the Civil War era. McAuliffe claims the goal of the provision was to disenfranchise African-Americans.

According to the Virginia Constitution, felons have been prohibited from voting since the Civil War. The provision became more restrictive in 1902 as part of a measure that included poll taxes and literacy tests.

McAuliffe’s order comes as the nation is paying more attention to harsh sentencing policies, many of which disproportionately affect African-Americans. Virginia, along with Kentucky, Florida and Iowa, maintain the harshest restrictions.

One in five African-Americans are disenfranchised in Virginia, according to the Sentencing Project.

The order also comes at a time when politicians are beginning to consider the role of voters in the run-up to the general election in November.

The New York Times reports McAuliffe is being accused of “playing politics” as he is a friend of potential Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton. In a statement issued by the Republican Party of Virginia, members accuse McAuliffe of “political opportunism” and “a transparent effort to win votes.”

In a press release, House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) called McAuliffe’s action a “broad and unprecedented view of executive power” and connected the order to the presidential election, saying, “I am not surprised by the lengths to which he is willing to go to deliver Virginia to [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton in November.”

However, McAuliffe claims few outside his immediate staff were aware of his plans.

McAuliffe has worked to enfranchise felons since the beginning of his term, but has faced opposition from the Virginia General Assembly. While McAuliffe claims his authority on the decision is “ironclad,” University Law Prof. A. E. Dick Howard said the move may be challenged in the courts.