Virginia Republicans were universally condemned last week for their latest underhanded assault on democracy in the Commonwealth. In addition to suing Governor McAuliffe a second time for returning voting rights to 13,000 Virginians, Tommy Norment introduced a duplicitous constitutional amendment that permanently barred ex-felons from voting, regardless of circumstances. It also reintroduced court costs as a stipulation for regaining voting rights, a modern day equivalent to poll taxes that Governor McAuliffe explicitly repealed.
Unfortunately for Norment and the rest of his cronies, their amendment was immediately exposed for its intended purpose: window dressing to distract the people of Virginia from overt voter suppression tactics. Below is a roundup from journalists and editorial boards both praising the relentless efforts of Governor McAuliffe and excoriating Republicans for their deceitful schemes to marginalize an entire class of Virginians.
Virginia’s Republicans Turn Back the Clock – The New York Times
It does not make sense to decide whether a person should be allowed to vote depending on the nature of the crime. As one Democratic lawmaker pointed out, Mr. Norment’s amendment would restore the vote to someone convicted of widespread financial fraud costing millions of dollars but not to someone convicted of assault in a bar fight.
But rationality isn’t the point of this proposal. It’s to protect a racist and vindictive practice that should have been consigned to history long ago.
Virginia Republicans’ essentially racist project – The Washington Post
For this essentially racist project, Virginians can credit the ethically challenged majority leader of Virginia’s state Senate, Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City). He filed legislation last week that would bar people convicted of violent felonies, in Virginia disproportionately African Americans, from ever having their voting rights restored.
Mr. Norment’s amendment would leave Virginia as an extreme outlier in terms of restoration of rights. It would strip the governor of any role in the process by automatically restoring voting rights for nonviolent felons — a category that would also be defined by lawmakers — after they had completed their sentences and paid court costs and restitution, which often amount to thousands of dollars.
Whatever happens in the political war—in Virginia and across the country—McDaniel and Garrett and millions of others must live with the consequences. Their efforts to register to vote took years. Both wanted to have a voice in their community and their country because they pay taxes, just like everyone else. For now, both women are registered to vote. Each of them framed the letter informing them that their rights had been restored—again—and look forward to casting a ballot in November.
"I think these guys really feel caught in the middle of this political fight that's going on, and it's profoundly unfair," said Kari Galloway, the executive director of Friends of Guest House, an organization that helps women transition from incarceration and has assisted Garrett and McDaniel. "It's shameful to keep them as the rubber band in the middle of all of this."
‘Political firestorm’ – The Suffolk News-Herald
Even so, Prince criticized Republicans. “The Republican Party wants to paint all of us with the same brush,” he said. “You cannot just arbitrarily discriminate against people who have served their sentences. You can’t lump all the people together and say none of them deserve it.”
Since the Supreme Court decision, McAuliffe has continued to re-restore rights to the same group of people by processing each person’s paperwork individually. Prince has been notified his rights have been re-restored, and he’s looking forward to voting in the November elections.
“That will be a great thing for me,” he said. “That shows that we have a voice.”
“What do you want, for us never to have any rights?” Prince said. “You expect us to behave civilly when you’re not going to do the same for us. We’re caught up in a political firestorm.”
The Governor isn’t forgetting the people many would rather ignore – King George Journal
Virginia is one of the few states in the union that permanently take away a person’s voting rights after they have been convicted of a felony. Funny, some misdemeanors are worse than some felonies, but that’s the rule. So, a person can serve their sentence, return to a useful and productive life, and still not be allowed to cast a ballot.
As far as McAuliffe is concerned these people have paid their debt to society and withholding their right to vote is unduly punitive. Now, stymied by the court, he is going, one-by-one, through every name on that list of 206,000 and issuing, as appropriate (no violent criminal or sex offenders), the clemency orders necessary to restore the person’s civil rights.
Schapiro: For some Va. Republicans, lifelong voting bar is a non-starter – The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Tommy Norment, the majority leader of the Virginia Senate, is proposing an amendment to the state constitution under which violent felons never would get back their voting rights — which apparently would be a first among the states. Nonviolent felons who had completed their terms could qualify for automatic restoration, but with a catch that might make it more difficult.
Five days later, Norment unveiled a proposal that not only seemed to confirm that Republicans support lifelong punishment for some felons, but in the face of population change and demographic shifts that threaten the party, they are doubling their efforts to control the size of the Virginia electorate.