As Virginia's population becomes more urban - with urban areas being much more liberal than the hinterland regions - the Republican Party of Virginia has done all it can to block the restoration of voting rights for felons who have done their time and paid their fines. In the vast majority of states the restoration of voting rights happens automatically. Not so in Virginia. Why? Because convicted felons in Virginia are disproportionately members of racial minorities - minorities that tend to vote liberal/Democrat. Indeed, Virginia Republicans even opposed former Governor Bob McDonnell's effort to restore voting rights - one of McDonnell's few progressive acts - because even a small increase in minority voters might tip some districts from the GOP column to that of Democrats. This GOP concern is heighten by the reality that the population of the urban cities and counties of Northern Virginia, greater Richmond, and Hampton Roads now exceeds that of the rest of Virginia combined. It was no surprise, therefore, that the Virginia GOP went ballistic over Governor McAuliffe's executive order that restore voting rights to thousands and thousands of former felons, many of who are now productive members of society and good citizens. As the Virginian Pilot reports, Congressman Bobby Scott - who is my representative and who the husband and I know - blasted the bigotry of Virginia Republicans. Here are story excerpts:
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott struck hard Wednesday at Republicans who accused Gov. Terry McAuliffe of trying to help the Democrats win the presidency when he issued an executive order last week restoring voting and other civil rights to 206,000 felons.
State Republican leaders have said McAuliffe’s executive order last week that allows felons who have served their sentences and probation to vote, run for office or serve on juries was a way to register more voters for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November presidential election. They also objected to his restoring rights to those who committed violent crimes.
Scott, an attorney and civil liberties expert, argues the governor is correcting a suppression effort that goes back 115 years.
“The right to vote is a right. It’s not a privilege. You have Republicans who at every opportunity are trying to deny people the right to vote,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
He noted Virginia’s ban on felons voting originated in the early 1900s as part of a package of new state laws designed to suppress blacks. Those restrictions, including the now-banned literacy tests and poll taxes, at the time had forced the removal of 85 percent of black voters from the rolls.
McAuliffe’s order could return to the voting rolls as much as 20 percent of the state’s black population that have felony convictions, Scott said.
“If there is such an advantage to Democrats, it means the Republicans were enjoying a huge advantage all these years because they could deny 20 percent of the African American population the right to vote,” the Newport News Democrat said.
Virginia remains one of four states that strip voting rights from felons for life after their convictions. Before McAuliffe’s action, felons could get the right restored only by individually applying to the governor. Governors, both Republicans and Democrats, have restored rights to thousands in recent decades.
The mindset behind Massive Resistance in the 1960's is a live and well in some factions in Virginia, especially the Republican Party of Virginia which has become increasingly racists and homophobic since I resigned from the party many years ago. I should note, however, that the growing racism and religious extremism directly corresponds with the rise of the Christofascists in the Virginia GOP.