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February 5, 2021

The following statement can be attributed to Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia:

"For the last 120 years, the government has taken away your right to vote if it decides you aren’t good enough. The right to vote should be absolute for all Virginia citizens 18 and over, and we regret that the Senate did not take the bold step of guaranteeing that right in our constitution by passing Senate Joint Resolution 272 as it was introduced.

"Denying the right to vote based on a felony conviction is racist in its origin, intent and execution. At the 1902 Constitutional Convention when felony disenfranchisement was adopted, lawmakers talked openly about using this law to “eliminate the ignorant and worthless negro as a factor from politics of this State without taking the right of suffrage from a single white man.” Today, one in seven Black Virginians cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement. It has done its intended job of blocking generations of Black people from the vote. SJR 272, as introduced, would have removed this stain on our constitution and ensured that every Virginia citizen 18 and over can vote. The last-minute change adopted by the Senate still blocks people who are incarcerated from voting and treats some Virginians as second-class citizens. The ACLU of Virginia continues to hope for passage of a true right to vote for all.

"On behalf of its more than 200,000 members and supporters, the ACLU of Virginia encourages all members of the House and Senate to show courage and vote to send a constitutional amendment forward that will ensure racial equity at the ballot box. The only way to do this is by amending the Virginia constitution to end felony disenfranchisement and guarantee a right to vote – a move that 66% of Virginians agree is the right thing to do."