Recent Election Puts Spotlight on "Antiquated Election Laws" in Virginia

Senseless voting barriers in Virginia elections - including misinformed poll workers and "antiquated election laws" - have hurt Virginians as recently as the Nov. 3 election.  Voting rights groups say it does not have to be this way; recently, civil rights groups called out to the state to take the measures necessary to make "voting accessible to as many qualified people as possible."

After running the Election Day hotline for its 10th year earlier this month, the ACLU of Virginia learned two things: "First, Virginia needs to do a better job of training poll workers," wrote executive director, Kent Willis in a recent opinion-editorial, published in the Augusta Free Press. "Second, Virginia's election laws need to undergo a major overhaul. Both are easy to fix."

Most of the problems at the polls would have been avoidable, said Willis, had poll workers been clear on Virginia law. For example, voters reported being turned away for not presenting ID when, in reality, voters without photo ID are only required to sign an Affirmation of ID form to vote a regular ballot. Others who were not on registration rolls - for whatever reason - were wrongfully not allowed to vote a provisional ballot. And those who recently moved who did not have their information updated and forwarded to the elections office from the DMV were denied ballots, although Va. law allows voters to cast ballots at their former precinct within 12 months of moving.

"Most poll workers are competent, hard working folks who do a good job," Willis wrote. "But `most' is not sufficient when it comes to something as vital as voting. It's not just that every single vote matters, but also that the act of voting for most of us is a profound experience that binds us to our democratic principles and governing institutions."

While poll worker issues are avoidable and fixable with "planning, training and common sense," Virginia's "antiquated election laws" require more attention.

With about 300,000 people denied the right to vote for past criminal charges - ("Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states in the nation still lugging around this old Jim Crow albatross") - Willis says it's time to rewrite state election laws regarding the voting rights of those who have "fully repaid their debt to society."

With about 300,000 people denied the right to vote for past criminal charges - ("Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states in the nation still lugging around this old Jim Crow albatross") - Willis says it's time to rewrite state election laws regarding the voting rights of those who have "fully repaid their debt to society."

This same sentiment was echoed by grassroots community group the Virginia Organizing Project last week. The group has championed automatic restoration of voting rights for former felons upon completion of their sentence and probation, a measure that they say does not have to be mulled over in the state General Assembly, but can easily be brought by Executive Order from Governor Tim Kaine before he leaves office in January.

"In Virginia, the power to restore those rights lies solely with the governor...Kaine has restored rights to more than 4,000, felons, a greater number than any other Virginia governor," the Associated Press reported last week. "He and former Gov. Mark Warner, a fellow Democrat, restored more altogether than the previous 16 administrations." The groups are encouraging Kaine to take action before Republican Bob McDonnell takes office in January.

"What does he have to lose?" asked Janice Johnson, chair of the Virginia Organizing Project. "It would be different if there were a number of other states that hadn't already made the changes."

Kaine, however, says the process is already attainable "for those who wanted it" because it requires them to pursue and apply for their voting rights. The problem, civil rights groups assert, is that many felons don't know that they have the option to regain their rights, and, furthermore, the application process can take several months.

"This is a country that's built on laws and freedoms and rights," Johnson said. "At some point when you have lost your freedom and you have regained it, you should also regain your rights."

Although he stands by the current restoration process that requires governor pardon on a case-by-case basis, Kaine said he would support amending the state constitution to set up a statutory process so rights are not restored solely "based on the personality of the governor."

Civil rights groups contend that restoration of voting rights for felons who are no longer in custody is key to the rehabilitation process, and reduces the harmful impact on low-income and minority communities where a disproportionately high number of individuals are disenfranchised due to felony convictions.

"When I got it in the mail, it gave me some self worth," said Herbert Townes, who was on probation for check fraud charges before getting his rights restored in 2006. "It gave me that feeling that maybe I can do better.

"That's the least we can do. We can let people know that they are worthy of a second chance."

Tags: election reform, Felons, Poll workers, Virginia, Voting Rights (all tags)

Comments

1 Comment

Tim Kaine

What a horrible excuse for a DNC CHair.  He and his ilk don't want all people to have rights, just old, straight white guys.  Oh, and of course the President has rights too cause otherwise ol' Tim wouldn't have a job in politics.

by Demo Dan in Dayton 2009-11-29 04:30AM | 0 recs

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