(CNN)The Republican National Convention is well underway and so, too, is a lawsuit that could alter the outcome of the election.
With oral arguments set to begin Tuesday, the Virginia Supreme Court inHowell v. McAuliffe will consider whether Gov. Terry McAuliffe acted constitutionally when he reinstated voting rights to more than 200,000 felons via executive order in April of this year. And in a race that remains too close to call, 200,000 potential new voters could make the difference between a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency.
In reaction to McAuliffe’s order, Republican lawmakers promptly filed a complaint with Virginia’s Supreme Court, alleging that the move violated Article II, Section I of the Virginia Constitution, which reads, “No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.”
Though the text makes an exception to felon disenfranchisement in the event of a governor’s restoration, the plaintiffs argue, “From Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell, every Governor of Virginia has understood the clemency power to authorize the Governor to grant clemency on an individualized basis only.”
In other words, while clemency may be granted in a case-by-case scenario, it was certainly not intended to be handed out to hundreds of thousands of criminals at once.
Whatever the legal and political response, though, the electoral ramifications of the executive order and its constitutionality — soon to be determined by the Commonwealth’s Supreme Court — could not be more important.
The most recent poll of Virginia from Hampton University shows a tie between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the Real Clear Politics average has Clinton leading by less than five points, making Virginia a key battleground state coveted by both candidates and perhaps determinative in the 2016 election.
Adding upwards of 200,000 extra voters could most certainly make the difference in a state with just over 5 million registered voters. As Politico reports, as of June 30, just 8,170 convicted felons have taken the step of registering to vote, and these voters tend to lean Democratic.
This addition of new voters, however minute, could very well make a difference. As most recall, the 2000 election in Florida was determined by just a few hundred votes, suggesting that the addition of thousands of new voters could have a determinative effect on the electoral outcome this fall.
So as the 2016 election kicks into high gear and all eyes turn to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, perhaps it is equally wise to cast our gaze upon a little known lawsuit in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The court case that could decide the 2016 election