RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Wednesday that he approved the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, making the commonwealth the first state in the U.S. to enact its own voting rights act.
“At a time when voting rights are under attack across our country, Virginia is expanding access to the ballot box, not restricting it,” Northam said.
The Governor’s office said this act will provide comprehensive protection against voter suppression, discrimination and intimidation. Amendments S.B. 1395 and H.B. 1890 prohibit state and local policy from denying or restricting anyone the right to vote because of their race, color or language they speak.
“With the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, our Commonwealth is creating a model for how states can provide comprehensive voter protections that strengthen democracy and the integrity of our elections,” Northam said. “I am proud to support this historic legislation, and I urge Congress to follow Virginia’s example.”
In order to prevent discrimination, the new act requires election officials to get feedback or pre-approval from the Office of the Attorney General on any proposed voting changes. It also allows people to sue in cases of voter suppression. Civil penalties awarded from these cases will go to a newly-established Voter Education and Outreach Fund.
“The Voting Rights Act of Virginia is a huge victory for our democracy,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan, who introduced S.B. 1395. “While other states are threatening voting rights, Virginia took a major step today to protect the right to vote.”
The new act also prohibits at-large local elections if they “dilute the voting power of racial minorities,” and requires local election officials to provide voting materials in foreign languages as needed.
“Virginia is standing strong against a coordinated and intentional effort to restrict voting rights across the nation,” said Del. Marcia Price, who introduced H.B. 1890. “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.”