By Kurtis Lee

The decision by Virginia's Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, to reinstate the voting rights of almost a quarter of a million convicted felons could reverberate into the general election.

McAuliffe, who has close ties to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, on Friday used his executive power to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 felons who have served their sentences _ many of them blacks, a core Democratic voting bloc.

McAuliffe's move circumvented the state's GOP-controlled Legislature and immediately sparked complaints.

"We will ensure everyone with freedom to live in our communities has the right to participate in the democratic process," McAuliffe said on Twitter.

State laws vary on the right to vote for ex-felons. Across the country, about 5.85 million people with felony convictions are prevented from casting ballots, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Virginia has some of the strictest laws when it comes to voting rights for felons.

The nonpartisan Sentencing Project estimates that 1 in 5 blacks in Virginia is disenfranchised.

McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, served as chairman of Clinton's failed 2008 presidential campaign.

Long considered a Republican bastion, Virginia has turned more purple in recent years. President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012.

Virginia has liberal pockets in its northern and coastal regions. It is more reliably Republican in rural areas farther south and around the state's large military bases.

Clinton won the state's Democratic primary over rival Bernie Sanders last month with more than 64 percent of the vote.

(c)2016 Los Angeles Times