Opinion Columns & Blogs

Convicted felons might tip presidential race


Thanks to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, 200,000 convicted felons in the state of Virginia may now register to vote.

“The change applies to all felons who have completed their sentences and been released from supervised probation or parole,” the Washington Post reported. “The Democratic governor’s decision particularly affects black residents of Virginia: 1 in 4 African-Americans in the state has been permanently banned from voting because of laws restricting the rights of those with convictions.”

McAuliffe’s executive order also allows felons, including rapists and murderers, to run for public office, serve on a jury and become a notary public. I can just visualize the campaign slogan now: “Vote for me. I’ve already done time.”

Republicans are outraged, of course. Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell said: “The singular purpose of Terry McAuliffe’s governorship is to elect Hillary Clinton president of the United States. This office has always been a stepping stone to a job in Hillary Clinton’s Cabinet.”

It’s an accusation McAuliffe vehemently denies.

Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Proud of my friend @GovernorVA for continuing to break down barriers to voting. – H.”

After many years as a Republican red state, Virginia more recently has become a swing state and important to Democrats for winning the presidency. It is likely that many of these felons will become reliable Democratic voters. Maybe Democrats will next figure out a way to hand illegal immigrants crossing our southern border the right to vote.

McAuliffe, a prolific fundraiser for the Clintons, appears to be as loyal to them as a family’s faithful golden retriever. He has raised millions for them and for the Democratic National Committee. For a good account of McAuliffe’s fundraising antics and other financial dealings, visit the website counterpunch.org.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “In 38 states and the District of Columbia, most ex-felons automatically gain the right to vote upon the completion of their sentence.” In liberal Maine and Vermont, convicted felons may cast their ballots while in prison and are never disenfranchised. Most states require ex-convicts to apply to have their voting rights restored. Many factors go into the decision, including the nature of the crime. It is not always automatic.

In his book “The Virginia State Constitution,” John J. Dinan writes: “Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement provision … has been challenged in several cases, but sustained in each instance.” In 1982, Virginia voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed convicted felons to vote. As recently as 2004, notes Dinan, a constitutional amendment to automatically restore felons’ voting rights after the completion of their sentences was considered by the General Assembly, but failed to achieve a majority in either the House or Senate.

In an interview after McAuliffe’s announcement, Howell suggested legal action might be taken. There isn’t much time between now and November, and the Republican majority legislature is not even in session. Legal action would be difficult.

If Clinton wins the presidency and the votes of Virginia felons prove decisive, cheating and voter cynicism will plunge to new depths. Most people probably think politics can’t get any dirtier. McAuliffe’s action shows they are wrong.

Cal Thomas, a columnist with Tribune Content Agency, appears in Opinion on Wednesdays.