Virginia’s historic voting rights act drafted by Black women lawmakers

Virginia's landmark voting legislation was written and sponsored by State Senator Jennifer McClellan and Del. Cia Price

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam approved the Voting Rights Act of Virginia on Wednesday — making the ‘Old Dominion’ the first state in the south to enact comprehensive protections against voter suppression, discrimination, or intimidation.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) speaks during a news conference on June 4, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Through this bill, Virginia will adopt voting safeguards modeled after the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act proposed at the federal level by restoring and building on provisions of the since-gutted 1965 federal Voting Rights Act.

Not only is this landmark legislation historic for its sweeping rights provisions, it’s also a bill that was written and sponsored by two Black women — State Senator Jennifer McClellan and State Delegate Cia Price.

Read More: Jennifer McClellan builds major support for her governor’s bid in Virginia

“The Voting Rights Act of Virginia is a huge victory for our democracy. While other states are threatening voting rights, Virginia took a major step today to protect the right to vote,” said Sen. McClellan. “Our Commonwealth is leading the way, becoming the first state in the South to pass a Voting Rights Act. This law will help to safeguard every Virginians’ access to the ballot for generations to come.”

Senator Jennifer McClellan participates in Supercharge: Women All In, a virtual day of action hosted by Supermajority, on September 26, 2020 in United States. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for Supermajority)

McClellan is one of five Democrats running for the party’s nomination in the 2021 gubernatorial election. The primary is set to take place on June 8 and this will determine who will represent the Democrats in the race for the governor’s office.

In recent election cycles, Democrats have made significant headway in moving the commonwealth to the left. The once deeply red state has shifted to purple, meaning it is a state in play for the Democrats, but not yet undisputedly blue. 

In recent weeks, theGrio has reported on the racist attacks from Republicans seeking the governor’s seat McClellan has drawn for what she said is her strong candidacy and claim to the post. Getting this legislation to the finish line and putting Virginia on the map as a state upholding and safeguarding democracy in the south strengthens her assertions.

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“Virginia is standing strong against a coordinated and intentional effort to restrict voting rights across the nation,” said Del. Price. “These targeted restrictions are designed to disenfranchise people of color, working Americans, and non-native English speakers. With this bill, our Commonwealth is taking the opposite approach and we are making a bold statement against voter suppression. We are upholding the dignity, voice, and vote of all Virginians.”

Virginia Del. Cia Price
Virginia Del. Cia Price (Photo: Virginia House of Delegates)

Now the ball is other southern states’ courts to follow the standard set by Virginia’s General Assembly. Congress is pushing for the Senate to pass the For the People Act, but there are many issues on the docket in addition to voting rights.

State legislatures have been tinkering and chipping away at these rights, and Georgia serves as an example fresh on our minds. But as federal intervention pends, the responsibility to act weighs heavy on state and local officials in the south. 

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