Elections have consequences

11/11/2021, 6 p.m.
Elections have consequences. We already have seen that with the rejection on Nov. 2 by Richmond voters of the $565 …

Elections have consequences.

We already have seen that with the rejection on Nov. 2 by Richmond voters of the $565 million planned casino and resort development.

In turning down the project, voters largely in the majority white precincts of the city have turned their backs on Richmond’s future and the thousands of jobs that would have been created by the resort’s construction and operation.

By their vote, they also have thumbed their noses at what would have been a new source of revenue to help fund essential city needs and contributions to nonprofits.

By their vote on Nov. 2, Virginians also are likely to see an all-out assault on voting rights in the state by new Republican leaders, including Gov.-elect Glenn A. Youngkin, who pledged to boost “election integrity” by crushing some of the historic advances made by Democrats during the past two years to give Virginians greater access to the polls.

Gov.-elect Youngkin promised while he was on the campaign trail to create an “election integrity task force” to ensure “free and fair elections” in the Commonwealth, to update voter rolls monthly and to conduct an audit of Virginia’s voting machines.

In his Election Night victory speech, he pledged to restore the requirement for photo IDs in order to vote.

That provision in the law had been eliminated by the Democratic-controlled legislature in dismantling barriers to participation in our democracy. The change allowed voters to produce other forms of ID – not just a photo ID – in order to vote.

Democrats also changed the law so that Virginians can vote absentee without having to provide an excuse; expanded early in-person voting to 45 days before Election Day; made Election Day a state holiday; and, beginning next year, opened the process so that someone can register and vote on the same day.

Many of the changes were led by members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, or VLBC, who noted that the state’s restrictive rules had long hurt communities of color, including African-American voters, as well as low-income voters.

Some experts also say the changes enabling early voting and creation of additional ballot drop-off points helped boost voter turnout in Virginia during the past two elections during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic could have abridged it.

We are gravely concerned about whether Virginia’s newly elected attorney general, Republican Jason S. Miyares, will adequately adhere to and implement the new Voting Rights Act of Virginia, another milestone measure in the state that was championed by a VLBC member, Delegate Marcia “Cia” Price of Newport News.

The act was designed to put into place protections for Virginia voters by prohibiting racial discrimination and voter intimidation. In addition to requiring local election officials to provide materials in foreign languages that are spoken widely in their locale, it mandates that election officials obtain public approval or the approval of the state attorney general before changing any polling places.

In Richmond, ballots were printed in both English and Spanish for the first time for the Nov. 2 election. The city also expanded the number of sites open for early voting after fielding complaints from residents about an initial dearth.

The Voting Rights Act of Virginia also gives individuals the power to sue over cases of voter suppression, with any civil penalties awarded to go into a newly established Voter Education and Outreach Fund.

The passage of this act and other voter protection measures by Democrats in the General Assembly that were signed into law by Democratic Gov. Ralph S. Northam was unprecedented.

By comparison, states that have been under the Republican control of Trump loyalists, such as Texas, Georgia and Florida, have passed dozens of voter suppression laws, including measures that limit early voting and ballot drop-box locations and reduce the number of polling places serving communities of color.

We don’t know what Virginia Attorney General-elect Miyares will do, but we know that as a member of the House of Delegates, he voted against the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, along with a majority of his Republican colleagues. They opposed it, citing the potential for voter fraud.

Will Mr. Miyares uphold the new law and enforce its provisions across the state? Or will he work with Gov.-elect Youngkin and the House, which appears to be headed for Republican control, to overturn the historic voting rights changes? Take a guess.

Elections have consequences.

A major caution flag has gone up because of recounts that are scheduled in two House of Delegates races in Hampton Roads. Just a few hundred votes separate the two Democratic incumbents and their Republican challengers who now hold slim leads.

If the Republicans win, the House will be under a GOP majority, 52 to 48. And GOP control of the chamber may prove to be a major stumbling block for an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would automatically restore voting rights for felons as soon as they complete their prison or jail time.

That amendment was championed by Democratic Sen. Mamie E. Locke of Hampton, a member of the VLBC, and was approved by the legislature during the 2021 session. However, it must be approved by the General Assembly again in 2022 and then approved by voters in a statewide referendum before it can go into effect.

VLBC members have raised concerns that the constitutional amendment may be derailed by House Republicans, keeping thousands of Virginians from access to the ballot box.

The right to vote is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. GOP attempts to thwart that would be nothing less than voter suppression.

Elections have consequences. Virginians will face those consequences when the new year ushers in a return to Republican leadership in the Governor’s Mansion and at the Capitol.