The ACLU of Virginia today called on Gov. Ralph Northam to champion passage of an amendment to the Virginia constitution that would guarantee the right to vote for all citizens over 18.
In a letter to the governor following his announcement that, since taking office, he has restored the voting rights of nearly 11,0000 people, ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said a constitutional amendment is “the only answer” to achieve “racial justice at the ballot box.”
“If you are indeed serious about ending historically rooted racial injustices, you will immediately announce your public support and commitment to lead the charge to amend the Virginia constitution to positively affirm and guarantee the right to vote of every citizen over the age of 18,” the letter said.
Disenfranchisement of voting rights of people convicted of felony offenses is a Jim Crow-era limit specifically intended to block black people from voting. About one in five African-Americans in Virginia currently are prohibited from voting because of it.
“Rather than focus on the questions of whether and when someone deserves to get back the right to vote, as we have for decades, we need to oppose the very idea that government should be able to take away this fundamental right in the first place,” the letter said. “All citizens should be able to use their right to vote. Full citizenship means having a voice in government.”
Amending the Virginia constitution requires that a proposed measure pass the state legislature, then be passed a second time following an intervening election of the House of Delegates. Upon second passage, it must be put before the voters in a referendum for final approval.