Virginia GOP filing lawsuit to block felons from voting

Gov. Terry McAuliffe holds up the order he signed to restore rights to felons in Virginia at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Friday, April 22, 2016. More than 200,000 convicted felons will be able to cast ballots in the swing state of Virginia in November's election under a sweeping executive order by McAuliffe announced Friday that restores their rights to vote and run for office. (Mark Gormus /Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Republicans are asking the state’s highest court to block more than 200,000 convicted felons from voting in November.

GOP leaders argue in a lawsuit that they are filing in the Virginia Supreme Court on Monday that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order violates the separation of powers by effectively suspending the state’s ban on felons.

They say governors can restore voting rights only on a case-by-case basis.

McAuliffe has stood by his action, arguing there’s nothing in Virginia’s Constitution that limits him to restoring rights on an individualized basis. He says people who’ve served their time should be allowed to have their voices heard this fall.

Republicans say the order is a political ploy designed to help Democrats win the White House in November. McAuliffe denies that.

McAuliffe issued a statement of the state GOP’s decision to file the lawsuit:

Today Republicans filed a lawsuit to preserve a policy of disenfranchisement that has been used intentionally to suppress the voices of qualified voters, particularly African Americans, for more than a century. These individuals have served their time and are now living, raising families and paying taxes in our communities  — this suit is an effort to continue to treat them as second-class citizens. This legal action would also take Virginia out of the overwhelming majority of states that restore the rights of people who have served their time and completed supervised release.

“As Virginia’s foremost constitutional scholar has concluded, the Constitution of Virginia grants the Governor ample authority to restore the rights of people who have served their time, and does not place any limitation on that authority that would be relevant to the issue at stake in this lawsuit. This is simply the latest Republican attack on the voting rights of qualified Virginians who deserve a voice in their society, and we will oppose it vigorously.”

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