For Immediate Release
Virginia Court Ruling Leaves Hundreds of Thousands Disenfranchised
RICHMOND - On Friday, in a 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court of Virginia held that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proclamation restoring the right to vote for people with past felony convictions is unconstitutional. In response, New Virginia Majority, a local grassroots group, and Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization, issued the following statement:
“Today’s ruling presents another unfair hurdle for access to the ballot, and reaffirms the Commonwealth’s Jim Crow legacy,” said Tram Nguyen, Co-Executive Director of New Virginia Majority. “It is difficult news for members of the community, who for months felt redeemed and that they had a voice. Excluding Virginians from the ballot, even after they’ve paid their debts to society, is a cruel, inhumane reminder of past mistakes. Importantly, today’s ruling validates entrenched interests in the Virginia General Assembly bent on silencing a large swath of Black Virginians in order to maximize their political power. Going forward, the same organizing energy that went into creating Gov. McAuliffe’s proclamation will translate into a vigorous push for the access to the ballot we deserve. Virginians have sacrificed too much for the right to vote, dating back to the early days of the Commonwealth. We will not stop the fight now.”
Organizations like New Virginia Majority have worked to expand access to the ballot box for years. NVM’s advocacy and organizing was key to Gov. McAuliffe’s proclamation, which could have restored voting rights for up to approximately 206,000 Virginians who were previously disenfranchised.
Further, opponents of rights restoration are ignoring the countless benefits afforded by it, including reduced recidivism rates.
“For years, we have worked alongside impacted people who wanted to restore their political voice. With this ruling people who have paid their debt to society will continue to pay,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project’s National office. “As a result of a broken and discriminatory criminal justice system, 1 in 5 Black Virginians cannot vote. We will continue to support organizing efforts to secure the right to vote for them and others.”
The majority of Virginians – 63 percent – agree that Governor McAuliffe made the right decision by restoring voting rights for people with prior felony convictions. By challenging the proclamation in court, conservatives effectively allowed ideology to trump the people’s voice.
“It is disappointing that voters of color again stand to be disproportionately denied the right to vote by an archaic law rooted in Virginia’s history of white supremacy,” said Eddie Hailes, Jr., Advancement Project General Counsel. “The right to vote should be sacred, and it is disheartening to see politicians use the courts to deny it to hundreds of thousands of Virginians."
Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.