NORFOLK, Va. — As Virginians showed in 2020, even a pandemic cannot stop people’s right to vote.
The state saw record turnout in both voter registration and total voting numbers in the November General Election. Total votes came in at 4,413,388, while a record number of absentee votes tallied at more than two and a half million.
As of Wednesday, those voters along with every Virginian are now protected under the new Voting Rights Act of Virginia, signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam. A release from Northam’s office says it makes Virginia the first state in the nation to implement a state-level version of a voting rights act.
It prohibits “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."
“The act of voting is freedom, it’s power. That’s why it’s been weaponized since it began,” Newport News Del. Marcia Price said in a virtual news conference Thursday, who sponsored the House version of the bill.
Some of the changes included in the bill are:
- Prohibits discrimination in elections administration, requires local election officials to get feedback or pre-approval for voting changes
- Allows individuals to sue in cases of voter suppression
- Requires localities seek public comment or pre-approval from the Office of the Attorney General on any proposed voting changes
- Empowers the Attorney General to sue in cases of voter suppression
- Civil penalties awarded as a result of voting discrimination will go towards a newly-established Voter Education and Outreach Fund.
“It gives us express authority to go in and protect people’s voting rights,” Attorney General Mark Herring told 13News Now in a virtual interview Thursday. “If a local practice or something else infringes on somebody’s voting rights it gives us clear authority to go in and go to court to protect that person’s right to vote.”
It also ensures voting materials be provided in foreign languages as needed.
These provisions, awaiting the final clearance from lawmakers after several technical amendments, would go into effect in September of this year.
This news comes weeks after Gov. Northam restored the voting rights of nearly 70,000 formerly incarcerated Virginians.