Republicans are crying foul and unfair advantage, after Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced an executive order, which will automatically restore voting rights to convicted ex-felons. The primary condition being that all felons, will have completed their prison sentence, and met all parole and probation requirements as of April 22. The objection of republicans is their assumption that all 200,000 felons to be released, will cast their felonious votes for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Republicans are also arguing that it is Governor McAuliffe’s friendship with the Clinton’s, that was behind his decision to restore these voting rights. Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, William Howell, argued that very point stating “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.”
Front-runner Donald Trump was quick to partake in the sudden paranoia, telling a Rhode Island crowd on Monday. “In Virginia, 200,000 people in prison for horrible crimes are being given right to vote for the first time.” Trump appeared not to fully understand the order, mistakenly thinking that it applied to those still in prison when the order only applied to those released from prison. Trump later added, “Virginia is a close state, I would win Virginia, I have properties. 200,000 people convicted for the worst crimes…they know they’re gonna vote Democrat, and that could be the swing.” Trump declared McAuliffe’s order to be “crooked politics”
While Virginia will be a “swing” state for democrats in the 2016 race, the extent to which Governor McAuliffe’s order will help democrats is greatly exaggerated. A 2014 study by scholars Marc Meredith and Michael Morse, took a hard look at ex-felons who had regained the right to vote in North Carolina, between 2004 and 2008. The results of that study reflected that 21% of ex-felons voted in 2008 and that 85% of them voted as Democratic.
The New York Times used that same study to conclude that McAuliffe’s order would give democrats a little over 20,000 additional views, when using the same percentages as were used in the North Carolina study. When taking these figures into consideration, it seems ludicrous that republicans truly believe that democrats are guaranteed a win in Virginia and that ex-felons would be responsible for that win.
The debate on the rights of ex-felons will always be a contentious one. Particularly, for those of us who believe that violent felons should have to relinquish all of their rights. However, republicans may likely be correct in their belief, that ex-felons will more likely identify with the Democratic Party. This is just one of the reasons some choose to vote republican to begin with. But Governor McAuliffe’s order, is less about republican beliefs and more about republican insecurities. The GOP is severely fractured, as it continues to wage war against it’s front-runner. The GOP’s options also appear to be quite limited. Should anyone really be surprised that any gains by democrats, regardless of how small, might lead to a little panic and paranoia? One might ask if republicans would have rejected as much to the release of white collar corporate ex-felons, that is assuming they would vote republican.