Voting rights restoration

3/18/2021, 6 p.m.
Voting is the lynchpin of democracy.

Voting is the lynchpin of democracy.

And with the cataclysmic events that occurred in America after the presidential election, including the seditious Jan. 6 mob assault on the U.S. Capitol, our democracy is something we must not take for granted.

Today, we celebrate the nearly 70,000 Virginians whose voting rights have been restored thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. Ralph S. Northam. These Virginians had been blocked from full participation in civic life because they are still on parole or probation. The governor’s order now gives automatic restoration of voting and other civil rights to felons as soon as they complete their prison terms.

We have long called for the voting rights of felons to be restored automatically once they have served their time. The continued branding and banishment of felons from full participation in society is a pernicious relic of Jim Crow that falls disproportionately on Black and brown people who are locked up at much higher rates than their white counterparts.

Virginia’s restriction wrongfully barred people from fully participating in the democratic process once they had done their time and returned to live, work and pay taxes alongside others Virginians.

We believe once a felon has completed his or her time, he or she has fully paid for transgressing against society and automatically should be allowed to vote, serve on a jury and run for and hold elective office.

As Gov. Northam said, probation can last for years, and people should be able to exercise their civil rights even if they are still under supervision.

“Letting these folks vote or exercise other civil rights isn’t a threat to public safety,” he said.

We urge the nearly 70,000 newly eligible to register to vote right away so they can participate in the June 8 Democratic primary elections that will determine the party’s nominees for the state’s top offices.

We are certain we’ll hear a hue and cry from Republicans, particularly the leftover Trumpers who call themselves patriots but routinely beat down democracy. They may even mount a legal challenge.

Nonetheless, we find this latest action by Gov. Northam to be uplifting, particularly during a time when anti-democracy forces in 43 other states are working to pass legislation to restrict voting rights. It’s the never-say-die Trump faction still at work, angered still by an enormous turnout of Black and brown people across the United States that gave Democrat Joe Biden a win in November and booted Republican Donald Trump out of the White House. His adherents are willing to pull out all the stops — including trampling on Americans’ voting rights and our basic democracy — to have their way.

We also find it ironic that the governor, who survived his own blackface scandal in early 2019, has taken up the mantle for racial justice. That scandal, plus the events of the past year with George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis at the hands of police, has helped to open space for discussions about race, racism and racial injustices that have been perpetrated for centuries in our nation.

We find some relief in the fact that scales continue to fall from the eyes of many people and that actions are being undertaken in the Commonwealth and around the nation to change racist laws, policies and practices.

“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Gov. Northam said Tuesday in announcing the restoration of voting rights to the nearly 70,000 Virginians. “We are a Commonwealth that believes in moving forward, not being tied down by the mistakes of our past. If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully — and this policy does just that.”

This is, in part, what racial reckoning looks like. There’s still so much more to be done.