Virginia governor restores voting rights to 13,000 felons

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Voting Rights Restored for 13K Virginia Felons

Aug 22 (Reuters) - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has restored voting rights to almost 13,000 felons on a case-by-case basis after the state Supreme Court blocked his wider clemency effort, he said on Monday.

The announcement by McAuliffe, a Democrat, came a month after the high court blocked an executive order issued in April that had restored voting rights to more than 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

The order was seen as a possible aid in tipping Virginia, a swing state in this year's presidential election, in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Opinion polls have shown her leading Republican candidate Donald Trump in the state.

Photos of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe through the years

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Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, right, hugs Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as she arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Norfolk, Va., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton acknowledges the crowd with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe as she arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Norfolk, Va., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
National Governors Association Winter Meeting Vice Chair, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, right, accompanied by National Governors Association Winter Meeting Chair, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, speaks to the media during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. Herbert and McAuliffe discussed the current presidential election cycle, the Supreme Court vacancy, gun control and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. McAuliffe announced an agreement on an expansion plan for Interstate 66 in northern Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, speaks as Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran listens during a media briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. Portions of Virginia are under a blizzard warning. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wears a crossed flag pin representing the Virginian state and Cuban national flag, at a press conference after a visit to the port of the Mariel special economic development zone near Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. McAuliffe is on a two-day visit to Cuba with a delegation of businessmen exploring trade opportunities between the U.S. state of Virginia and Cuba. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe speaks to reporters after a visit to the Mariel special economic development zone near Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. McAuliffe is on a two-day visit to Cuba with a delegation of businessmen exploring trade opportunities between the U.S. state of Virginia and Cuba. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
In this photo taken Tuesday June 16, 2015, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during an interview with the Associated Press during the Paris Air Show, at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris. Governors across the country have been packing their bags for all-expenses-paid trade missions abroad, spending taxpayer dollars on costly trips that have an uneven track record of yielding any tangible benefits for their states. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announces that Stone Brewing Co., one of the nation's top 10 craft breweries, plans to build a facility in Richmond, during a news conference in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and his wife Dorothy dance during their inaugural ball in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. McAuliffe was sworn in earlier in the day as the 72nd Governor of Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton acknowledge supporters during inaugural ceremonies at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. McAuliffe was sworn in Saturday as the 72nd governor of Virginia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Virginia Gov-elect, Terry McAuliffe, right, and his son, Peter, 11, center, look over the inaugural stand on the South Portico of the Capitol during a walk through at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. McAuliffe is due to be inaugurated as the 72nd Governor of Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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McAuliffe said he had signed the restoration orders last week for almost 13,000 felons who had had their voter registrations canceled under the court ruling. The orders were mailed on Friday.

"I am not content to condemn them for eternity as inferior and second-class citizens," he said in a ceremony at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial in Richmond, the state capital.

McAuliffe said state officials would continue to review cases. The names of felons whose rights were restored would be announced on the 15th of every month, he said.

Republican legislative leaders had challenged McAuliffe's move in court. The state Supreme Court said McAuliffe had overstepped his clemency powers through his sweeping order.

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John Whitbeck, chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, said it had always backed restoration of voting rights on a case-by-case basis where deserved.

"We're going to take a really long look at the individuals who had their rights restored, make sure he complied with the court order ... and from there decide what to do," he said by telephone.McAuliffe has said his original order would move Virginia away from lifetime disenfranchisement that hits African-Americans particularly hard.

Many of the convicts who benefited were African-Americans or Latinos, two groups that have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in the past.

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President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won Virginia in 2012 by about 150,000 votes and in 2008 by about 235,000 votes.

Virginia is one of four states whose constitutions permanently disenfranchise felons but allow the governor to restore voting rights, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan civil liberties group.

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