Washington, D.C. – Today the New York Times’ Editorial Board delivered a forceful and important endorsement of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive action restoring the voting rights of former convicted felons who have paid their dues to society. Reaffirming the Democratic Party’s commitment to protecting the right to vote, the DNC’s Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation, Donna Brazile, also applauded Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s actions today. Below is her statement, followed by a link and the text of the New York Times’ editorial:
Statement by DNC Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation Donna Brazile:
“The Democratic Party applauds Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s decision to restore the voting rights of over 200,000 citizens. Terry and I first started working on voting rights together when he was the DNC Chair, and he helped established the Voting Rights Institute. Democrats across the nation believe the right to vote is our most fundamental right – it is the right that protects and preserves all of our other rights and freedoms. Democrats also know that we solve our nation’s problems with more democracy, not less.
“The contrast between our two national parties has never been more stark than on the issue of our democracy. Sadly, restricting access to the ballot box has become the political strategy for the Republican Party. We have witnessed Republican-led legislatures in Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere make it harder to vote by eliminating same-day registration, reducing early voting, eliminating polling locations, and imposing strict Photo ID laws. Democrats, however, are actively fighting to the expanding expand voter access in states like Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Vermont and everywhere in between. We are fighting in state houses to pass automatic registration, implement online voter registration, expand early voting and same-day registration. Democrats in Congress are working to restore the full strength of the Voting Rights Act.
“When long lines form or citizens are unable to overcome election burdens, Republicans blame the problem on ‘too many voters’ and celebrate those burdens as a key to their general election victory. Meanwhile, New York Democrats are holding people accountable and actively seeking answers. Because Republicans don’t hold themselves accountable for election failures, the Democratic National Committee and its partners are doing so for them by filing suit in Arizona to reverse the culture of discrimination and disenfranchisement.
“Today’s action is a reminder that elections matter. Our nation and our democracy are stronger and healthier when we elect Democrats up and down the ticket.”
New York Times Editorial:
NEW YORK TIMES // EDITORIAL BOARD
In a major executive order, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia on Friday restored voting rights to more than 200,000 people who have completed their sentences for felony convictions. Virginia was one of four states, along with Iowa, Kentucky and Florida, that placed a lifetime bar on voting for anyone convicted of a felony. All other states except Maine and Vermont impose lesser restrictions on voting by people with felony convictions.
To people who have served their time and finished parole, Mr. McAuliffe said in a statement: “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.” It is the largest restoration of voting rights by a governor, ever.
Felon disenfranchisement laws, which currently block nearly six million Americans from voting, were enacted during the Reconstruction era in a racist effort to make it harder for newly freed African-Americans to vote — a reality Mr. McAuliffe acknowledged on Friday. “There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” he said. In Virginia, one in five blacks have until now been unable to vote because of a felony conviction.
Mr. McAuliffe’s historic act, which he took in the face of opposition by the state’s Republican-led General Assembly, is all the more notable against the backdrop of persistent attempts by conservative lawmakers and officials around the country to make voting harder or impossible for minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic. (A similar executive order issued last year by Steven Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, was quickly reversed by his successor, Matt Bevin, a Republican.)
Until 2013, it was much easier to block discriminatory voting laws. Under the Voting Rights Act, all or parts of 16 states, most in the South, with a history of passing such laws were required to get permission from the Justice Department before making any voting changes. But in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, five Supreme Court justices disabled that requirement, known as preclearance.
Now that federal oversight is gone, officials in previously monitored jurisdictions have rushed to impose a slew of new voting laws and regulations, according to a running tally by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. These changes have, among other things, moved or closed polling places, shortened or canceled early-voting periods, required proof of citizenship or a photo identification to register to vote, erroneously purged voters from the rolls and gerrymandered districts to dilute the power of minority voters.
When the preclearance requirement, known as Section 5, was in place, changes like these were routinely blocked for being racially discriminatory. Without the requirement, it is impossible to know how many changes are being enacted or attempted, because most happen at the local level and are not broadly reported. It is unlikely that there would be fewer changes than in the decade before the Shelby County ruling, when the Justice Department each year received between 4,500 and 5,500 submissions, and reviewed between 14,000 and 20,000 voting changes. While the vast majority were approved, the federal government blocked more than 700 between 1982 and 2006, when the law was last reauthorized by Congress.
Now, in the absence of a strong pre-emptive tool like Section 5, the only meaningful remedy to a discriminatory voting change is litigation, an expensive and time-consuming process that often comes too late to help voters who were harmed by new discriminatory laws.
Discrimination in voting, of course, is not limited to the previously covered states. Lawmakers in Ohio and Wisconsin, for example, have gone to great lengths to complicate voting for minorities in those states by, among other things, enacting voter-ID laws or reducing early-voting periods. Since the 2012 presidential election, 17 states have enacted new restrictions on voting, many of which burden minority voters more heavily, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Congress should amend the Voting Rights Act to restore preclearance and apply it to all jurisdictions with a recent history of discriminatory voting practices. And state officials who are not busy trying to disenfranchise people should be following Mr. McAuliffe’s example, and working to make it easier for people to vote.