RICHMOND — Nearly 80 percent of the ex-felons who just got their voting rights restored by Gov. Terry McAuliffe were convicted of non-violent crimes, according to an analysis released by the governor’s office Wednesday.
The typical felon affected by McAuliffe’s order is a white, middle-aged male who finished serving his time more than a decade ago, according to the analysis, which comes weeks after the governor’s controversial April decision to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 ex-felons.
McAuliffe has said the move will advance civil rights and help reintegrate former convicts. He and other Democrats have championed the move as eradicating the last vestige of the Jim Crow era, since the policy of disenfranchising felons disproportionately affects African Americans.
Of those felons with new voting rights, nearly 46 percent are African American, despite the fact that blacks make up less than 20 percent of the state’s population. Fifty-one percent are white.
Virginia is one of only a few states that barred felons from voting for life.
McAuliffe’s executive order restores voting rights to all felons who have completed their sentences and been released from supervised probation or parole. The analysis released by the state showed that most of the ex-cons affected had left the criminal justice system at least 10 years ago.
Republican critics have said McAuliffe’s move was an attempt to help Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, a close friend and political ally, win the White House in November. She could benefit from higher numbers of minority voters in what has been a crucial presidential battleground state.
On Wednesday, Republicans were quick to point out the flip side to the state’s analysis: McAuliffe has given more than 40,000 violent offenders the right to vote, serve on juries and run for office.
“The Governor really needs to explain why he thinks violent criminals should have the right to serve on juries that have an obligation to uphold the law,” House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said in a written statement.
Howell and others also questioned the veracity of the analysis because the administration has refused to release underlying data about the former inmates.
“The delayed, incomplete, and unverified data released by Governor McAuliffe in no way excuses his reckless decision to restore the civil rights of violent offenders and flagrant violation of the Constitution,” Howell said.
Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Albemarle), vice chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee and a candidate for attorney general in 2017, said he was “skeptical” of the administration’s figures. He noted that state Sentencing Commission records show that 80.8 percent of inmates in Virginia have a violent felony on their record.
“If they would just show us the data, we could look at it,” he said.
Christina Nuckols, a McAuliffe spokeswoman, said the administration had not decided whether to release more information. The governor contends that no matter what offense has been committed, a criminal who has completed his sentence should be fully welcomed back into society, she said.
“These men and women have completed their sentences. . . and are in their communities, working and paying taxes,” she said. “Why would we prevent them from participating in elections?”
Nuckols suggested that since nonviolent offenses carry shorter sentences, “those individuals return to their communities more quickly,” which could be “the reason the group of people having their rights restored isn’t the same as the population of state prisons.”
Republicans have hired a high-profile Washington attorney to explore challenging the executive action in court.
The governor will hold a town hall meeting on rights restoration on Thursday at Richmond’s 31st Street Baptist Church, a predominantly black congregation.
In April, Howell and others asked the administration for a list of people whose rights were restored, including their criminal offenses, their sentences and whether they had made court-ordered restitution to victims.
The administration said then that it would not do so on the grounds that “providing such information would no doubt be used to fuel the demonization and demagoguery that has characterized much of the response from certain quarters to this act of executive clemency so far.”