The autopen is mightier
August 22, 2016 12:09 PM   Subscribe

In April, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order reinstating the voting rights of 200,000 convicted felons who had completed their sentences. [previously] Gov. McAuliffe's plan produced some unintended consequences, and incurred the ire of the General Assembly's top Republicans. The Supreme Court of Virginia overturned the original order in an opinion that rejected the Governor's "blanket use" of his restoration authority. Gov. McAuliffe is now proceeding in accordance with the Court's ruling, signing the first 13,000 individual orders with the assistance of an autopen.
posted by enjoymoreradio (43 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:16 PM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think the Virginia Supreme Court should be required to write out all their decisions with quill pens, as the Founders intended.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:18 PM on August 22, 2016 [24 favorites]

I understand that the real issue here is racism, but I cannot for the life of me understand the nominal objections to this (besides racism). Where I live (Maine) you never lose the right to vote, because you remain a citizen of the US even when you are in jail. It doesn't ever seem to have caused a problem.

In most other places, this is a non issue. What terrible injustice to Virginians foresee happening if felons are allowed to vote?
posted by anastasiav at 12:25 PM on August 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

From the 6th link: "Undoubtedly, the governor has restored the rights of some deserving citizens," said Howell. "But, there is also no doubt that he has restored the rights of some odious criminals."

Bearing in mind that these are all people who have completed their sentences... Wow. Just, wow.
posted by xedrik at 12:29 PM on August 22, 2016 [28 favorites]

Actually, it is an issue in every state expect Maine and Vermont. More states than you would believe have permanent disenfranchisement.
posted by all about eevee at 12:30 PM on August 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

It looks like most states theoretically restore voting rights after serving out one's sentence/probation, but yes, only ME and VT guarantee the uninterrupted right to vote.
posted by psoas at 12:33 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

What terrible injustice to Virginians foresee happening if felons are allowed to vote?

Republicans fear they'll vote for Democrats.

The sentiment is likely "that's the punishment that they deserve." For felons, there is no rehabilitation and welcoming back to American society once they've served their sentences. Just a permanent blot on their record and permanent disenfranchisement.
posted by zarq at 12:34 PM on August 22, 2016 [28 favorites]

I was not particularly enthused about McAuliffe when he won the Dem nomination, but he's actually done a good and fairly brave job as governor. Despite being backstabbed by a corrupt state senator.
posted by tavella at 12:36 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the permanent blight on felons is just awful. So many places won't even consider hiring ex-cons. How are they supposed to re-integrate into society if doors keep getting slammed at every turn? One of the things that I like about our little mom & pop shop is that we have hired ex-cons, several times. They were all great employees, and two of them went on to start their own businesses.
posted by xedrik at 12:38 PM on August 22, 2016 [13 favorites]

Yes, most states restore the right to vote upon release (as noted above) (Illinois does it automatically upon release). In addition to the problems restoring voting rights mentioned in that link, it is also a problem is that our communities lack re-entry support and many people leaving prison have nowhere to go. So registering to vote is not only fairly low on their priority list, it's hard for them to do it at all, without current valid IDs, without permanent residences, with broken or destroyed relationships with their families who are the people most likely to have the documents necessary for them to prove their identities and get IDs and get registered or to be interested in helping them.

Restoring voting rights to persons released from prison is important (and the right thing to do) but the more important battle is restoring voting access.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:42 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Since xedrik mentioned ex-cons and hiring discrimination, there has been some well-meant push back against this in the form of "ban the box" legislation. Unfortunately, humanity being terrible, this has led employers to simply using race as a proxy for criminal records when considering applications.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 12:44 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

McAuliffe said those sent the letter, and those individual felons who are granted rights in the future, will be subject to a "thorough review'' that involves more than a half dozen different agencies, including the Virginia State Police, Department of Corrections, Department of Criminal Justice Services, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Behavioral Health and Secretary of the Commonwealth's office.

What a waste of time and money. What exactly is the "thorough review" looking for? Are there set guidelines, or are petty bureaucrats deciding on a whim who does and does not get to vote after they've served their time?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

I don't understand why thorough review is required. Voting should not be contingent upon any kind of test. Period. End of story. Disenfranchisement is something that really hits a nerve for me and I don't even know what that's all about, but it disgusts me that something like 1 in 13 African Americans don't have the right to vote due to felon disenfranchisement.
posted by xyzzy at 1:22 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Had the Governor followed the Constitution of Virginia on April 22 when he initially attempted this, those affected by today’s announcement might not have endured the roller-coaster of bureaucratic incompetence his executive overreach exposed," Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment said in a statement, calling McAuliffe "petulant and imprudent" for criticizing the General Assembly and Supreme Court after the ruling.
How do you put out a statement like this without knowing that you sound like a whiny dick?
posted by indubitable at 1:33 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Virtually all of my lawyer friends were completely horrified by the Virginia Supreme Court's decision overturning McAuliffe's order. Their decision had virtually no basis in law or any other established precedent.

They knew this loophole was open, and ruled the way that they did anyway. They formed their decision on the basis that it would cause the greatest headache and inconvenience for the Democratic Governor and the people he was trying to help.

Even in right-leaning states (WHICH VIRGINIA ISN'T), it's rare to see this kind of vindictive behavior at such a high level in the courts.
posted by schmod at 1:55 PM on August 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:58 PM on August 22, 2016

produced some unintended consequences
I feel like if you're going to do this you even do it to convicted sexual offenders.

Modulo the legal awkwardness of them potentially having to come into schools and churches and such to vote.
the offenders, who are confined in a treatment facility under a form of civil commitment
Oh jeez. Another giant bag of worms just nonchalantly plopped in a discussion about disenfrachisement.
posted by adoarns at 2:18 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Given the nature of the American revolution, the government doesn't have any moral legitimacy unless it's justifiable to straight up murder some people over the right to vote.

I, for one, don't want to give anyone, especially not "odious criminals," moral justification to straight up murder some people.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:25 PM on August 22, 2016

"Through review" sounds ominous...though under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, to the Constitution, Edward Snowden could run for President of the United States.
posted by clavdivs at 2:29 PM on August 22, 2016

Given that McAuliffe had previously said he'd restore rights individually if his executive order were overturned, the Republican response tactic of taking this to court seems like a poor strategic decision. "The governor's going to restore voting rights to felons who are likely to vote Democratic. What can we do to make it certain that they will vote Democractic?"
posted by layceepee at 4:57 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Make it even more obvious that only a Democrat would provide for this."
posted by rhizome at 5:28 PM on August 22, 2016

IANAL, but on the ground here in Virginia the general feeling on "thorough review'' is that it's cover-your-ass language: it lets the Governor say that this action is Being Taken Very Seriously and provides a talking point shield to help deflect criticism. Whether that's how it pans out, we'll see.
posted by introp at 5:47 PM on August 22, 2016

yeah but i mean what if there's like a willie horton situation where some bad dude gets released from prison only to vote in a national election?

that shit would look bad, you don't want that happening
posted by indubitable at 6:36 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hillary must be a criminal if they are emancipating criminals to vote for her! [joke]
posted by BungaDunga at 6:47 PM on August 22, 2016

This governor is awesome
posted by gt2 at 7:20 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

And he's an example of why the purity seekers are wrong. People weren't thrilled about him winning the nomination because he's one of the third way too much money in politics etc etc guys, and sure, it's true. But he's a hell of a lot better than that evil bastard Ken Cuccinelli, and has in fact worked to do what good he can with a hostile legislature, including executive orders banning discrimination, and trying damn hard to get medicaid expansion for Virginia.

So sure, try to get the best you think you can in the primaries, but don't be an idiot and go sulk in a corner if you don't get what you want.
posted by tavella at 8:16 PM on August 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

Oh god. Him. That guy. Given the absolute dumpster fire that 2016 has been, I'm actually a little surprised that he's managed to stay out of the limelight.

And, like.... even as someone who thinks that the Democrats can (and should) be pushed further to the left without hurting their chances of winning elections, I thought that McAuliffe was probably the most left-wing governor that Virginia could reasonably be expected to support. I was pretty happy to see him elected, and I think he's done a pretty good job so far.

(Ditto for Tim Kaine. I think myself and many others wrote him off as a snooze, mistaken by the fact that a competent government that avoids controversy is indeed a snooze, and is something to be aspired to rather than avoided....)
posted by schmod at 9:58 PM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

While I was petitioning for Gary Johnson's ballot access in Virginia I met at least a dozen people a day who confided that they couldn't sign because they'd lost their voting rights.

After the first few I called the Governor's office and found out who people needed to call to get their rights restored and made the number a starred contact in my phone. Gave it out to so many people after that and expect I'll give it out to many many more while doorbelling and registering people to vote in the weeks ahead.

FYI if anyone needs it, the number is 804-692-0104. If you live in Virginia and are at all involved in campaigning I urge you to please save it in your phone so you can give it out as needed.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:58 AM on August 23, 2016 [13 favorites]

The worst criminals are the ones that never get caught, never get punished, never get their rights taken away. Anyone that has served their time and is released back to civil society should automatically be granted all rights that any other citizen have.
posted by JJ86 at 5:42 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

IMO voting rights should never be taken away to begin with. No matter what someone did, they're still a citizen.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:02 AM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

What terrible injustice to Virginians foresee happening if felons are allowed to vote?

Look, let's just call it what it is: the systematic assignment of felons, many of whom are African-American, to the status of a permanent underclass.

The rate of incarceration in Virginia per 100,000 (as of 2007) for whites is 396. For blacks, it is 2331. For every white person in Virginia behind bars, there are six black people behind bars.

20% of black Virginians have permanently lost the right to vote, and the state leg, 83% of which is white, is damn well determined to keep it that way.
posted by blucevalo at 7:27 AM on August 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yeah. Virginia has a loooooooooooong history of black voter suppression, starting with the end of the civil war and continuing right up to the modern day.

In addition to the voting rights issue, there's still a lot of shady voter intimidation shit that goes on here like targeting predominantly black areas (and only predominantly black areas) with notices that the police will be checking everyone who shows up to vote for outstanding warrants.

And the discrepancy in the felony rate isn't because black people are committing more crimes. They're just getting arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced more for stuff that white people often get let off easy for.

I knew the South was racist before I moved here but holy fuck it's still a shock how accepting and casual everyone who grew up here is about it.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:45 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Virginia has a loooooooooooong history of black voter suppression, starting with the end of the civil war and continuing right up to the modern day.

James Madison of Virginia was the one who came up with three-fifths, so I'd place the origin date a bit earlier than 1865.
posted by Etrigan at 7:51 AM on August 23, 2016

The three‐fifths compromise wasn’t about the black vote. It was about the slaveholder vote.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 9:46 AM on August 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Virginia governors have a one-term limit, so for some it is just a stepping-stone to other positions (Senators Robb, Allen, Warner, Kaine). Sometimes they try for a "lasting legacy" (e.g., Jim Gilmore's "no car tax"), or they lie low; either way, whatever their deeds or misdeeds (looking at you, Bob McDonnell), the next one is always coming right along. Good for McAuliffe for going to bat on this issue. He's only about halfway through his term, and I hope he has more positive impact before he's done. (He continues to push for Medicaid expansion, after the Puckett resignation killed it last year. He's battling against people who do things like call Medicaid expansion a "tar baby", so it's an uphill road.)
posted by candyland at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2016

How is permanent disenfranchisement even constitutional? I can see how people serving their sentence can have their franchise limited --- after all, incarcerated people have their rights limited rather intrinsically --- and even when under parole a felon's liberties are curtailed under law, but a felon who has served their sentence is surely equal in established rights to every other American, and the universal franchise is a pretty well-established right (the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th amendments collectively seem to set a very high bar for disenfranchisement).
posted by jackbishop at 2:31 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

W/r/t the constitutionality of felony disenfranchisement, the Fourteenth Amendment implicitly sanctions the practice:

"But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State."
posted by enjoymoreradio at 4:10 PM on August 23, 2016

Huh. I would think there'd be interpretive space in there to argue that the "crime" referenced there would have to be commensurate in seriousness to rebellion.

Also, situational irony that the ratification of the amendment which allows rebels to be disenfranchised actually re-enfranchised a lot of rebels.
posted by jackbishop at 4:20 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Huh. I would think there'd be interpretive space in there to argue that the "crime" referenced there would have to be commensurate in seriousness to rebellion.

Maybe it’s like the “well‐regulated militia clause” in that it’s just there for flavour.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 2:36 AM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Update from Richmond: Republicans are still mad.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 8:40 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Angry, too.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:20 PM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Update from Richmond: Republicans are still mad.

Reminder: This is all part of the GOP's systematic disenfranchisement of black voters. Combined with our racist law enforcement and judicial systems, permanently stripping felons of their voting rights led to one in five black Virginians being disenfranchised. Mostly for small amounts of weed. too -- as little as half an ounce with "intent to distribute" (and racists deciding what your intent was) is enough for a felony here. It's completely ridiculous.

So, if anyone wants to stick it to the GOP and help with the outreach effort to get these people their voting rights back, the New Virginia Majority seems to be spearheading that effort. Based on the email I got from their volunteers coordinator this week, it looks like a lot of the work will be done via phone calls and text messages so you probably don't even need to live in Virginia to help.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:00 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

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