New Voting Rights Act headed to governor

2/18/2021, 6 p.m.
Virginia will soon have its own Voting Rights Act to protect against voter suppression and intimidation.

Virginia will soon have its own Voting Rights Act to protect against voter suppression and intimidation.

On Monday, the Democratic majority in the House of Delegates overrode Republicans to pass by a 55-45 margin a Senate version of the bill that now goes to Gov. Ralph S. Northam, who plans to sign it into law. The measure would take effect July 1.

A companion and identical House bill is slated for Senate passage shortly.

The first of its kind in the South, the new law is modeled after the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the U.S. Supreme Court gutted in 2013.

Two members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus spearheaded the legislation—Newport News Delegate Marcia S. “Cia” Price and Richmond state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan, who also is running for governor.

Both versions would prohibit any qualification for voting, or any practice or procedure from being imposed by the state or any locality, that would deny or interfere with a person’s right to vote based on race, color or membership in a language minority group.

Local governments could make changes to their election laws but would need to either gain pre-clearance from the state attorney general’s office or engage in a lengthy process of advertising and securing public input before passage.

Any proposed changes in local laws and regulations would be required to be evaluated for their impact on Black people, other communities of color and Native Americans.

The bill’s language also authorizes challenges in communities with at-large voting, or those with multimember districts, that effectively reduce the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice.

The legislation also authorizes the attorney general or affected individuals to initiate civil action to challenge policies that are believed to be discriminatory.

“My great-grandparents, grandparents and parents faced literacy tests and poll taxes, and many Virginians have fought and died to protect the right to vote,” Sen. McClellan stated as she celebrated House passage of her bill.

“The Voting Rights Act of Virginia will comprehensively protect Virginia voters from discrimination, suppression and intimidation for generations to come.”

Delegate Price said Virginians must acknowledge the impact the long history of voter suppression has had in the Commonwealth. “In this unique moment, the Virginia General Assembly has decided to say we will not allow this to continue.”

The act’s passage also drew applause from advocates, such as Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority.

“The Voting Rights Act of Virginia will ensure that all citizens, no matter who we are or where we come from, will be able to cast a ballot and have our voices heard, free from discrimination or intimidation,” Ms. Nguyen stated. “The right to choose our

leaders and to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives are cornerstones of our democracy.”

The action on voting rights came as state courts eased requirements for candidates to get on the ballot.

Last Friday, a Richmond court extended the electronic collection of registered voters’ signatures on candidate petitions to those running this year for the House of Delegates.

A previous court order allowed electronic collection of signatures for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.