"It was the right thing to do legally," McAuliffe said in an exclusive interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "It wasn’t politics. It was the right thing to do morally."
The governor signed an executive order Friday that restored the voting rights to 206,000 convicted felons in the state. The order applies to both violent and nonviolent offenders who served their time and completed any supervised release, parole or probation requirements.
The move could influence how the swing state votes in this year's general election and was quickly criticized as “political opportunism” by the Republican Party of Virginia.
"Restoration of rights should be a celebration of overcoming, not a transparent effort to win votes," RPV chairman John Whitbeck said in a statement.
But McAuliffe thinks Republicans need to "quit complaining."
"I would tell them to be very careful how they frame this," he said. "They have an opportunity to go out and get these individual new voters to vote for them."
Prior to Friday’s order, the McAuliffe administration had restored the voting rights of more than 18,000 Virginians, which the governor's office said is more than the past seven Virginia governors combined over their full four year terms.
"Let's let people back in. Second chances matter. They served their time, they're in our communities," McAuliffe said. "Why not let them vote?"