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Kaine backs rights restoration; says Republicans since Obama have become anti-voting rights

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine, seen at Huguenot High School, said there is “now near-universal recognition … that this policy should be changed.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the Democratic vice presidential nominee, says he supports the policy behind Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s order allowing for mass restoration of rights to more than 200,000 ex-offenders — which the Supreme Court of Virginia struck down last month in a 4-3 decision.

And Kaine — who, at the end of his term as governor in 2010 researched a mass restoration order but did not take action — said the Republican Party should return to the tradition of being a voting-rights party that it demonstrated before the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

“The bottom line is, the policy is the right policy,” Kaine told the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Richmond Free Press in an interview Monday after a campaign rally at Huguenot High School.

“And I’m heartened to see that there is now near-universal recognition … except for people who are in the General Assembly, that this policy should be changed. And once the voters start to say the policy should be changed, we’ll get there.”

Asked about GOP opposition to a mass order restoring the rights of felons who have served their time, Kaine said that up until the election of Obama, Republicans historically supported voting rights.

He cited Republican support for the 15th Amendment eliminating race-based qualifications for voting, the 19th Amendment granting voting rights to women, and the 26th Amendment, enacted under President Richard Nixon, that expanded the right to vote to Americans when they turn 18.

“It’s only in the age of Obama that the Republican Party has done this U-turn against all the principles of the GOP and become an anti-voting-rights party,” Kaine said. “And that’s because they’ve decided they want to reduce the franchise as much as they can.

“They don’t feel confident they can win elections with full participation by American voters,” Kaine added.

“I’m praying that the party comes back to the tradition of that party, from 1865 to 2008. They ought to come back to it being a voting-rights party.”

House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said in a statement responding to Kaine’s remarks: “I’m disappointed by and resent Senator Kaine’s disingenuous comments.

“Our lawsuit was entirely based on preserving the constitution and the rule of law, the same principles Kaine adhered to when he decided he could not restore rights en masse.

“The suggestion that the lawsuit was racially motivated or that the thousands of Virginians who supported it are somehow racist is offensive and far beneath the dignity of both the office he holds and the office he is seeking.”

When Kaine was governor, he was approached about ordering a mass restoration of voting rights. After deliberation, his administration concluded that such an act might not be possible in his time left in office.

“We couldn’t reach a consensus. … We made a decision we didn’t think we could do it with two weeks’ notice,” Kaine said during the interview.

“We couldn’t reach a feeling of certainty in a couple of weeks that we could do this, and we didn’t want to create confusion.”

Kaine’s counsel at the time, Mark E. Rubin, researched the issue and wrote a memo explaining the administration’s position, concluding that while the governor’s “powers of clemency and restoration of rights might be read to support the blanket use of these powers to benefit unnamed individuals, we think the better argument is that these powers are meant to apply in particular cases to named individuals for whom a specific grant of executive clemency is sought.”

While being clear that Kaine disagreed with the current policy in the Virginia Constitution, a blanket order would be a “rewrite of the law rather than a contemplated use of the executive clemency powers,” Rubin concluded.

The Rubin memo was quoted in the recent Supreme Court of Virginia decision that struck down McAuliffe’s blanket restoration-of-rights orders in April, May and June.

Howell and Sen. Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, along with four other Republican voters, filed suit to block the order from taking effect. They argued it was an unconstitutional act that diminished their votes.

The state high court ruled in their favor July 22 and directed state election officials and local registrars to cancel the registrations of felons whose rights had been restored en masse. An estimated 13,000 ex-offenders had been registered to vote before the court’s decision.

Virginia elections officials have set a deadline of Monday to remove from voting rolls the names of people whose rights were restored under McAuliffe’s mass orders.

The governor has said he will personally restore the voting rights of felons affected by the court’s ruling on an individual basis. Such individuals would have to re-register to vote once they received their individual restoration order.

The restoration-of-rights issue has become particularly charged in the presidential election cycle in Virginia, a swing state coveted by Democrats and considered critical to GOP chances of reclaiming the White House in November.

Republicans have accused McAuliffe of trying to fatten the registration rolls to boost support for Democrats in general, and in particular, the presidential prospects of his friend and longtime political ally, Hillary Clinton.

jnolan@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @RTDNolan

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