Virginia Lawmakers Block Voting Rights for 200,000 People


On Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of Virginia state legislators who argued that over 200,000 Virginians, including one in five African Americans, should be barred from voting under the state’s felon disenfranchisement law.

Last spring, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 people who were convicted of felonies, served their sentences, and completed parole. More than 9000 of these individuals have already registered to vote.

State lawmakers sued, arguing that the executive order exceeded the governor’s authority to restore voting rights. The suit seeks to enforce voting restrictions that were adopted in 1902 to “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State” and ensure “the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government” — and which have succeeded in stripping one in five African Americans in Virginia of their right to vote.

Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act banned poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and other policies that barred African Americans from voting, one in every 13 Black adults in America is disenfranchised as a result of racially discriminatory felony disenfranchisement laws.

And since the Supreme Court significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, new policies that discriminate against minority voters have proliferated. Seventeen states representing 189 electoral votes (70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency) will have new voting restrictions in place for the 2016 presidential election. The new provisions range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.

This week, a federal appeals court found that Texas’s voter identification law violated the Voting Rights Act because it had a discriminatory effect on African Americans and Latinos, who often lack the kinds of identification required by the Texas law. But the court did not strike down the law, instead requiring Texas officials to make accommodations for voters who cannot obtain the required identification.

This fall’s election will be the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

This afternoon, the Virginia Supreme Court invalidated the governor’s executive order and ordered the Department of Elections to “delete from the record of registered voters the name of any voter who . . . has been convicted of a felony.”