In 1787, voting laws were used to disenfranchise black voters, claiming that slaves were only three fifths of a person, and therefore should only be allowed three fifths of a vote.
It is 2016, and the same thing is happening again.
On April 22, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to convicted felons across the state who are no longer incarcerated or on parole, claiming that the law that prevented these people from voting was aimed at effectively disenfranchising African Americans.
McAuliffe’s order would also give former felons the rights to serve on juries and even run for office.
“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans,” said McAuliffe in an interview with the New York Times. “We should remedy it.”
This July, the Virginia Supreme Court voted four to three that McAuliffe’s decision was unconstitutional, arguing that McAuliffe can restore voting rights on an individual basis only.
“Never before have any of the prior 71 Virginia Governors issued a clemency order of any kind, including pardons, reprieves, commutations, and restoration orders, to a class of unnamed felons without regard for the nature of the crimes or any other individual circumstances relevant to the request,” said Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons according to the Washington Post.
In a statement from McAuliffe, the Governor swore that he would restore the rights of each individual person, no matter how many orders he would have to sign.
“Once again, the Virginia Supreme Court has placed Virginia as an outlier in the struggle for civil and human rights,” said McAuliffe to the Washington Post. “It is a disgrace that the Republican leadership of Virginia would file a lawsuit to deny more than 200,000 of their own citizens the right to vote.
“I cannot accept that this overtly political action could succeed in suppressing the voices of many thousands of men and women who had rejoiced with their families earlier this year when their rights were restored.”
Many of the republicans in Virginia’s government believe that “the singular purpose of Terry McAuliffe's governorship is to elect Hillary Clinton president of the United States," according to Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
The thinking behind this is that former black felons will vote similarly to other low-income black Americans, who largely vote democrat.
However, states like Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah all vote republican, and all allow felons to vote in their states, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Additionally, even if every single person affected by McAuliffe’s order voted in the next presidential election, they would only increase the number of voters by five percent.
For McAuliffe, this is not about politics: it’s about human rights.
“People have served their time and done their probation,” said McAuliffe according to the New York Times. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.’’