Virginia Becomes a Voting Rights Bastion

The state’s voting rights act is being signed into regulation by a governor whose profession was nearly derailed by a blackface scandal in 2019. Since then, Mr. Northam has been on the forefront of a bunch of the state’s racial justice initiatives and has enjoyed high approval ratings. He mentioned on Wednesday that the Virginia regulation ought to turn out to be a mannequin for the nation.

“At a time when voting rights are under attack across our country, Virginia is expanding access to the ballot box, not restricting it,” Mr. Northam mentioned. “Our Commonwealth is creating a model for how states can provide comprehensive voter protections that strengthen democracy and the integrity of our elections.”

Virginia’s flip away from its longtime restrictions on voting rights started in 2016, when Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to 206,000 felons within the state over the objections of the Republican-led General Assembly and the state’s Supreme Court. After the courtroom dominated that Mr. McAuliffe didn’t have the authority to revive felon voting rights en masse, however could do so case by case, he despatched 206,000 particular person voting rights restoration letters to felons, who have been despatched envelopes with a Virginia voter utility type and a self-addressed stamped envelope.

“To me it was a moral, civil rights issue and this was a racist Jim Crow law that needed to be eliminated,” Mr. McAuliffe mentioned on Wednesday.

Once Democrats took full management of state authorities final yr, one of many first payments they handed created one of many longest early-voting intervals within the nation — a 45-day window for no-excuse absentee voting, during which folks can vote remotely with out having to supply a rationale. More than 2.8 million Virginians voted early within the 2020 election, almost 5 occasions as many as did so in 2016.

“This is what my ancestors fought hard for,” mentioned Charniele Herring, the creator of the early voting invoice, who final yr grew to become the primary Black majority chief within the Virginia House of Delegates. “My parents had to have that struggle in the ’60s, and this is the time to stop that struggle and to protect everybody’s right to vote, no matter their political affiliation.”

Republican state legislators all opposed the Virginia Voting Rights Act, arguing that it might inundate native election directors with lawsuits and complicate routine adjustments to voting. Glenn Davis, a Republican delegate from Virginia Beach who’s working for lieutenant governor, mentioned it was “simple human nature” that Democrats’ efforts to make voting simpler, like eliminating Virginia’s photograph identification requirement, would end in extra fraud.