The right to vote is a foundational element of democracy, and a particular point of pride for Americans. The reality, however, starkly contrasts this professed dream for Virginians. Virginia is one of three states that continues to permanently deny the right to vote for citizens convicted of a felony, unless individually restored by the governor. The Commonwealth’s 1902 Constitutional Convention effectively stripped Black and African-American individuals of their voting rights, using criminal convictions, literacy tests and poll taxes to disenfranchise Black voters and reinforce white supremacy. A feature of this “Jim Crow Constitution” was permanent felony disenfranchisement, thus disproportionately diluting the political power in communities of color by wielding the structural violence of the criminal justice system to convict Black people as felons. This disenfranchisement continues to this day, with 1 in 7 Black Virginians being permanently unable to vote even though they pay taxes and participate in civil society.
While Virginia eliminated other voter suppression tactics during the Civil Rights Movement, the state continues to follow this harmful disenfranchisement policy 119 years later, to the continued detriment of Black citizens and to the continued propagation of structural white supremacy throughout the Commonwealth. We must include all citizens of the United States in the democratic process and immediately abolish racial disparities. The ability to elect representatives and influence policies directly is critical to continued reintegration and encourages responsible participation in our community.
On Jan. 13, 2020 the Virginia General Assembly reconvenes. The proposal to amend the Constitution of Virginia relating to qualifications of voters and the right to vote will be reviewed. Please reach out to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and your representatives to request they support Senate Joint Resolution 272 with retroactive application. Find your representative here: https://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/). The time for change is today.