Virginia Republicans seek to block governor's voting rights restoration

August 31, 2016 1:57 PM EDT

FILE PHOTO -- Democratic nominee for Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe stands onstage during a campaign rally in Dale City, Virginia, October 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

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By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - Virginia Republican leaders said they will file a contempt motion on Wednesday against Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe over his efforts to restore voting rights to about 206,000 felons.

The motion comes the week after McAuliffe said he had restored voting rights to almost 13,000 felons on a case-by-case basis after the state Supreme Court blocked his blanket clemency effort.

McAuliffe's executive order was seen as a possible aid in tipping Virginia, a swing state in the Nov. 8 presidential election, in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Opinion polls show her leading Republican candidate Donald Trump in the state.

“After a thorough legal review, it is clear that Governor McAuliffe has once again illegally suspended the Constitution of Virginia,” House of Delegates Speaker William Howell said in a statement. He was joined in the 27-page motion by Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment and four voters.

The Republican lawmakers said they would ask the high court to hold McAuliffe in contempt for his bid to work around the justices' July 22 ruling that he lacked the constitutional authority to restore felons' political rights as a group.

McAuliffe criticized the motion, saying his office has complied with the order and set up a process that was in line with it.

"The people who have filed it are more concerned with the impact new voters could have on Donald Trump’s campaign than they are with the dignity of the people whom they continue to drag through the mud with their political lawsuits and ugly attacks," he said in a statement.

McAuliffe has said his original order would move Virginia away from lifetime disenfranchisement that hits African-Americans particularly hard.

Many of the convicts who benefited were African-Americans or Latinos, two groups that have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in the past. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won Virginia in 2012 and 2008.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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