New York Times: Virginia, the Old Confederacy’s Heart, Becomes a Voting Rights Bastion - Terry McAuliffe

New York Times: Virginia, the Old Confederacy’s Heart, Becomes a Voting Rights Bastion

Georgia has sharply limited voting access, making drop boxes less available and forbidding anyone to hand out water to voters in line. Florida and Texas are poised to advance similar legislation. Alabama’s strict voter identification law is being used as a template elsewhere. As states across the South race to establish new voting restrictions, Virginia is bolting in the opposite direction

Virginia, which for nearly 50 years had to submit changes to its elections to the federal government for approval under the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements, has now effectively imposed the same covenants on itself, an extraordinary step for a state with a long history of segregation and racially targeted voting laws

Virginia’s turn away from its longtime restrictions on voting rights began in 2016, when Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to 206,000 felons in the state over the objections of the Republican-led General Assembly and the state’s Supreme Court. After the court ruled that Mr. McAuliffe did not have the authority to restore felon voting rights en masse, but could do so case by case, he sent 206,000 individual voting rights restoration letters to felons, who were sent envelopes with a Virginia voter application form 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 said on Wednesday.

The local preclearance requirement that Mr. Northam approved on Wednesday was sponsored by two Black women, State Senator Jennifer McClellan and Ms. Price. Both said they had drawn inspiration from their family history of experiencing voter suppression in Virginia.

“I had a great-grandfather in 1901 who had to take a literacy test and find three white people to vouch for him to be able to register,” said Ms. McClellan, a Democrat who is running for governor this year, along with Mr. McAuliffe. “In January, I found a copy of my dad’s receipt for the poll tax he had to pay.”

Yet while establishing the Virginia Voting Rights Act represents both a symbolic and landmark protection of voting rights, the state still has old laws on the books that voting rights groups say act as barriers to the ballot box. The Virginia Constitution still bars convicted felons from regaining their voting rights, though they can seek to have their rights restored through permission by the governor, as Mr. McAuliffe did in 2016.

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