Thursday, February 2, 2017

ACLU-VA Denounces ‘Regressive, Unconstitutional’ Voting Rights Measure

Senate Joint Resolution 223, sponsored by Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) was reported by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee today on a narrow 8-6 vote. It now goes to the Senate floor for a vote. The ACLU of Virginia urges the Senate to vote no on this alarmingly regressive effort to roll back the right to vote and disenfranchise more Virginians.
Here’s our statement which can be attributed to Claire Guthrie GastaƱaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia:
“SJR223 is now the only measure on voting rights restoration still alive in the Senate. But make no mistake, it does not work to expand restoration of voting rights to those previously convicted of a felony as its proponents want people to believe. The substitute that is going to the floor for a vote works to further restrict the right to vote.
“There is nothing “automatic” about the criteria and process that will be written in stone in our constitution even for persons who were convicted of nonviolent felonies. First, the definition of violent and nonviolent felonies is left to the legislature and can be changed at will. It took almost 10 years to convince a Virginia Governor to move drug possession crimes from violent to nonviolent for purposes of voting rights restoration. There is no guarantee what definition a politically gerrymandered legislature with a proven record of voter suppression will apply.
“Instead of simply repealing the Jim Crow disenfranchisement provision and affirming the right of every Virginian to vote, SJR 223, as amended, would rewrite our constitution to:
• “Persons convicted of a violent felony as defined by the General Assembly would be permanently banned from voting.”
• “Continue to say anyone convicted of any nonviolent felony – as defined by the legislature – at any time can never vote again unless they meet certain criteria and follow certain procedures to get their rights back.
• “Condition the right to vote for those convicted of nonviolent felonies on full repayment of government fines, costs and user fees (including interest) — a modern day poll tax which offends the U.S. Constitution.
• “Give the legislature the ability to decide whether a felony is violent or nonviolent and to decide the terms on which people convicted of nonviolent felonies can get their right to vote back.
“Bottom line, the amendment to our constitution proposed in SJR 223 is not an improvement over the current disenfranchisement provisions. In fact, it’s worse because it codifies in the constitution criteria that the current Governor and any future Governor has or might reject. We urge the Senate to reject this deeply flawed proposal.”