Updated on May 2 at 4:15 p.m. EST
Republican lawmakers in Virginia said Monday they plan to file a lawsuit to stop Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s decision to let felons vote in the upcoming election.
McAuliffe had campaigned to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 felons in Virginia when he was elected, and last week he signed an order that’d do so.
GOP lawmakers argue the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority with a clear political ploy designed to help his friend and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton get votes in the important swing state of Virginia this fall.
"Gov. McAuliffe's flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of must not go unchecked," Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norment said in a statement. He said McAuliffe's predecessors and previous attorneys general examined this issue and concluded Virginia's governor does not have the power to issue blanket restorations.
Laws that prohibit felons from voting for life––as Virginia’s does––have been called discriminatory vestiges of racist Jim Crow laws. Virginia’s law, passed in 1906, was meant to weaken black voting strength. More than half of felons in the state are black, and are largely believed to vote Democratic. Virginia is an important swing state in November’s U.S. presidential elections, but felons there could have a limited impact. Former felons tend to be young and less educated, two categories most unlikely to vote. In fact, in states where they’re allowed a vote, 22 percent of men with felonies showed up to the polls in 2008.