Gov. Northam signs Virginia Voting Rights Act
4/1/2021, 6 p.m.
Gov. Ralph S. Northam has signed the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, making the Commonwealth the first state in the nation to enact its own voting rights act.
“At a time when voting rights are under attack across our country, Virginia is expanding access to the ballot box, not restricting it,” Gov. Northam said in a statement Wednesday announcing his signature on the act to protect against voter suppression, discrimination or intimidation.
The measures were sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan of Richmond and Delegate Marcia S. “Cia” Price of Newport News, both members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. Sen. McClellan also is running for the Demo- cratic nomination for governor.
The governor made minor technical amendments to Senate Bill 1395 and House Bill 1890, which prohibit any state or local policy from denying or restricting the right to vote of any Virginian simply because of their race, color or membership in a language minority group.
“With the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, our Commonwealth is creating a model for how states can provide comprehensive voter protections that strengthen democracy and the integrity of our elections,” Gov. Northam said. “I am proud to support this historic legislation, and I urge Congress to follow Virginia’s example.”
The act, which takes effect on July 1, requires election officials to get feedback or pre-approval from the Office of theAttorney General on any proposed voting changes. It also prohibits at-large local elections if they dilute the voting power of racial minorities. It also ensures accessibility by requiring local election officials provide voting materials in foreign languages, as needed.
Additionally, the act allows people to sue in cases of voter suppression. Civil penalties awarded from these cases will go to a newly established Voter Education and Outreach Fund.
The governor’s amendments clarify that certain provisions apply to all localities.
Gov. Northam also signed two other measures, HB 1888 and SB 1245, that require localities to establish drop off locations for the return of absentee ballots, include prepaid return postage on absentee ballots, and allow voters to fix mistakes they may have made on their absentee ballot envelopes. The measures also ensure Virginians who are blind or vision impaired have the tools they need to cast their vote.
“The Voting Rights Act of Virginia is a huge victory for our democracy,” Sen. McClellan said in a statement. “While other states are threatening voting rights, Virginia took a major step today to protect the right to vote.”
“Virginia is standing strong against a coordinated and intentional effort to restrict voting rights across the nation,” Delegate Price stated. “These targeted restrictions are designed to disenfranchise people of color, working Americans, and non- native English speakers. With this bill, our Commonwealth is taking the opposite approach and we are making a bold statement against voter suppression. We are upholding the dignity, voice and vote of all Virginians.”