Gov. McAuliffe makes history after restoring rights of 156,000 Virginians

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on April 22, 2016 at the Capitol in Richmond, holding the order he signed to restore voting rights to felons. (Mark Gormus/AP)

NORFOLK, Va. (WSET) -- In a ceremony in Norfolk on Thursday, Gov. McAuliffe announced he has individually restored the rights of 156,000 Virginians, more than any governor in American history.

His restorations efforts have surpassed former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's administration, which restored the rights of about 155,000 people through a clemency board.

“Expanding democracy in Virginia has been my proudest achievement during my time as Governor,” said Gov. McAuliffe. “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.”

Gov. McAuliffe signed a criteria-based order restoring voting and civil rights to eligible Virginians, estimated to be more than 200,000 people, on April 22, 2016.

On July 22, 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down the order.

The court ruled that McAuliffe did not have the authority for a blanket order.

Gov. McAuliffe announced a new individualized process that was upheld by the Court and remains in use today on August 22, 2016.

The McAuliffe Administration said its also taken several systematic steps to end voter disenfranchisement by reducing the waiting period for more serious offenders from five years to three, classifying all 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.

McAuliffe's Administration said his previous measures had restored the rights of 18,000 people, more than the past seven governors over their four full-year terms.

Gov. McAuliffe said he previously noted that the system he has implemented puts Virginia in line with 40 other states, however, in order to fully realize automatic restoration, Virginia will need a constitutional amendment.

That amendment would require the consent of the General Assembly, where previous efforts have failed.

Until an amendment is approved, Virginia's next governor will have the discretion to decide whether to continue Gov. McAuliffe's restoration process.

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