When Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to 200,000 citizens with felony convictions in April, he opened the door to an influx of likely Democratic voters in a state whose recent presidential elections have been decided by razor-thin margins. Very few of those potential voters have taken the first step toward showing up in November, Politico reports. As of June 30, only 8,170 of the newly eligible Virginians have registered to vote, says the Virginia Department of Elections. For many, the gap between eligible voters and registered voters is distressing. McAuliffe’s order restored voting rights to felons who have completed their incarceration, parole, or probation and paid court-related fees and restitution. Virginia felons had long ago lost their right to vote permanently until Gov. Bob McDonnell began lifting these restrictions in 2013.
McAuliffe touted his order as the restoration of democratic rights, while his critics viewed his motives more cynically. McAuliffe is a long-time ally of Hillary Clinton, and Republicans accused the Democratic governor of using the order to up the number of Democratic-leaning voters on the rolls. If the newly enfranchised Virginians do begin signing up in large numbers, it’s likely to be a boon for Clinton in a critical state because considerable evidence exists that ex-offenders lean toward Democrats. In Virginia, African Americans — a strong Democratic constituency — make up more than half the prison population. A RealClearPolitics polling average found Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump by 4 percentage points.