(CNSNews.com) - "Nobody should be surprised" that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons who have served their time, McAuliffe told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
"This is something I campaigned on and I've been working for the restoration rights for the last two years as governor," he said. "I have already restored the rights of 18,000 individuals, more than my past seven governors combined."
McAuliffe said "second chances matter," and "everybody ought to have a second chance" once they've completed probation or parole and they're back in society, working and paying taxes.
"And that's why I stood in front of our capital and erased 115 years. We have had some very horrible disenfranchisement of voters in Virginia. And I stood right in front of that capital, where we had a poll tax, literacy (test), disenfranchisement of voters.
"I stood not 20 yards from where Abraham Lincoln met the freed slaves 151 years ago in April."
"It was the right thing to do legally, and most importantly, George, it wasn't politics. It was the right thing to do morally. And I know these Republican legislators think it's politics," McAuliffe, a leading fundraiser for former President Bill Clinton, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, a former communications director in the Clinton White House.
"We have elections every year in Virginia. And if I were to do this for political reasons, I would have done it last year, when I had my General Assembly up. And if I'd picked up 5,000 more votes, I'd have control of the state senate."
McAuliffe says he wants all the ex-felons to vote, but he denied he issued his blanket order to help his good friend Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee, win the state.
Stephanopoulos noted that a 200,000-vote edge, if the felons register to vote and show up to vote, could make a difference in November.
"Well, I would tell the Republicans, quit complaining and go out and earn these folks' right to vote for you," McAuliffe said, addressing some of his critics. "Go out and talk to them. I find it very -- and in fact, I think some of the language that has come out of the Republicans, I would tell them to be very careful at how they frame this, very careful of their rhetoric."
Then McAuliffe changed the argument entirely, veering off into women's rights and LGBT issues in an attempt to delegitimize Republicans.
"These are the same legislators, George, that, just in this session, sent me a bill to sign that would have been very similar to North Carolina, religious freedom bill, that would have rolled back the rights and given protections (for LGBT people). They sent me a bill that would have defunded parts of Planned Parenthood. This is the same group of individuals several years ago passed the transvaginal ultrasound against women.
"I told folks when I ran for governor, I will be a brick wall to protect your rights for women. I will protect the rights of LGBT members and I'll do everything I can to get disenfranchised voters entrenched.
"So I've done that. It's exactly what I talked about. Our economy is booming. I just announced a 4 percent unemployment, biggest budget surplus in Virginia history. We put $1 billion in education. It works when you welcome people back into society and make them feel good about themselves," he said -- not explaining how a mass restoration of voting rights has anything to do with the economy.
McAuliffe said "there is no question" that his executive action will withstand legal scrutiny: "So I have the full authority to do this. I looked at this. I spent a lot of time looking at this issue, George. But I have legal authority, but I also have the moral authority.
"Let's let people back in. Second chances matter. They've served their time. They're in our communities. Why not let them vote?"
McAuliffe, a gun control advocate, did not restore the felons' right to own a firearm. "I'm merely saying after you have served your time and your probation and your parole are all over, determined by a judge and jury, I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting."
Liberal advocacy groups were there when McAuliffe made his announcement this past Friday, "handing out voter registration forms," the Associated Press reported.