Earlier this year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order granting the right to vote to 206,000 convicted felons who had completed their sentences and probation. Now, Republicans in the state’s legislature are fighting to take it back again.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, signed the order in April. Before that, Virginia was one of a small handful of states that permanently bar people who have been convicted of felonies from voting in elections. That practice—along with that of barring felons from voting while they are incarcerated, which is used in many more states—has been called out as a tool of racial and class-based disenfranchisement, based on statistics that show that poor people and people of color are far more likely to be branded as felons than their well-to-do white counterparts. Virginia’s policy, written into its constitution during the Civil War era, was explicitly aimed at disenfranchising black voters, McAuliffe said when he signed the order.
Now, a group of Republican state lawmakers is going to court over the action, arguing that McAuliffe overstepped the bounds of his executive power. The state’s supreme court will hold a special session to hear their arguments in July—in time for the order to be overturned before November’s general election, the New York Times points out. The suit also aims to retroactively strip the voting rights of those convicted felons who have registered since April, meaning about 5,800 newly registered voters could be struck from the rolls.
The Republicans’ fight against the governor is not some pure expression of their law-and-order ideals. Thanks in part to policies like the very voter re-enfranchisement order they are fighting against, black communities in Virginia and elsewhere, who are more likely to be affected by felon disenfranchisement, tend to vote Democrat. If the Republicans can overturn the order, that’s a few thousand Clinton votes they no longer have to worry about come November.