The Democratic Natonal Committee and the Virginia Democratic Party hosted a press call to discuss the restoration of voting rights for people with felony convictions in the Commonwealth and the Republicans’ campaign of misinformation with Assistant Democratic Leader Congressman James Clyburn and Congressman Bobby Scott.
Last month, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order restoring voting rights for more than 200,000 people with felony convictions.
The Governor’s actions overturned a lingering vestige of the Jim Crow laws that kept African Americans from voting, but Virginia Republicans are accusing him of “political opportunism.”
As our nation moves forward, it is deeply disturbing that one of the country’s major political parties is attempting to drag us backward.
Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. Jim Clyburn
The right to vote is the cornerstone of democracy and the foundation upon which all other rights are built. The Voting Rights Act has been the single most important tool to protect the right to vote over the last half century until Shelby County v. Holder opened the door for underhanded schemes that reduced electoral power in communities of color. We see that clearly in states like North Carolina where one bad law reversed an entire generation of electoral progress.
In Arizona, the DNC, the DSCC, the Arizona Democratic Party, and impacted voters took the extraordinary step of suing the state to correct the problems that led to five-hour lines during the presidential primary. Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country are passing restrictive voting laws, under the guise of fighting voter fraud, but they have only made it harder for groups that tend to vote Democratic – people of color, women, and students – to cast their ballots.
Governor McAuliffe is doing the opposite, they are trying to make it easier to vote but Virginia Republicans are resistant to his attempts to make the Commonwealth a more fair, and inclusive society. Virginia’s felony disenfranchisement law was passed to keep African-Americans from gaining political power.
Make no mistake – the GOP seems to believe their path to victory lies in restricting access to the polls. So if you ask me, the real political opportunism lies with the Republican Party. It’s time to close the door on these types of laws but the Republican Party is dead set on being on the wrong side of history. I have stood on the front lines of the fight for civil rights, and I applaud Governor McAuliffe for doing the right thing.
Representative Bobby Scott
The Virginia Republicans need to end their campaign of misinformation. Virginia Republicans have been desperately trying to paint Governor McAuliffe’s executive order as “political opportunism,” in order to divert attention from their defense of an overtly racist law. Yesterday, the Governor’s Office released a demographic breakdown of the 200,000 people whose voting rights will now be restored. What stood out for me was that 45.9 percent of disenfranchised voters are African-Americans even though blacks only account for 19.4 percent of the Commonwealth’s entire population. That clearly illustrates that the impact of this law was most keenly felt by African-Americans.
Governor McAuliffe’s actions are consistent with just about every other state in the Union. There’s nothing partisan, unusual or suspect about restoring voting rights for people who have paid their debt to society. Denying them that right is partisan. Denying them that right is unusual given that Virginia is only one of four states that requires people with felony convictions to petition the Governor to have their voting rights restored. And denying that right is suspect given the origins of the felony disenfranchisement laws.
Virginia Republicans are using every scare tactic they can dream up to attack the Governor’s motivations. They claim that this gives license to rapists and murderers to sit on juries, while ignoring the fact that 79 percent of the people whose rights were restored had non-violent felonies. They also claim that this is a partisan ploy that will give Democrats the edge in November. If that’s truly the case, then Republicans have been coasting into office all these years by limiting Democratic turnout.
I have a challenge for the Republican Party of Virginia. I want them to prove that they are not motivated by political opportunism by repealing the Commonwealth’s restrictive photo ID law, by implementing early voting, and to fully fund the replacement of our aging voting equipment. I challenge them to break down the unnecessary barriers that were erected to keep people of color away from the polls. If they are serious about protecting the integrity of our democracy then they should be willing to work with Democrats at the congressional level to restore the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act.