Virginia doesn't allow voters to directly initiate laws or veto referendums, but voting rights will indeed be on the ballot when voters elect their next governor on Nov. 7. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie's recent ads attacking Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over felony disenfranchisement demonstrate how Gillespie would take Virginia back to an ugly chapter of its Jim Crow history if he gets elected.
Back in 2016, outgoing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe began using his executive authority to unilaterally restore voting rights to roughly all 200,000 Virginians who had served their sentences, including parole and probation. As of April 2017, McAuliffe had restored voting rights to 152,000 disenfranchised citizens.
As part of a campaign where naked racist appeals have taken center stage, Gillespie's ads (here and here) scaremonger about how Democrats support restoring the franchise to even those convicted of violent crimes, arguing voting should have to be earned back. Of course, voting is a right, not a privilege one should have to earn back, but even Gillespie's claim tips his hand to what this qualification would do. Earlier in 2017, GOP legislators tried and failed to make the restoration of rights conditional upon the repayment of all court fines, fees, and restitution, something that would disproportionately disenfranchise poor Virginians for life as an effective poll tax.
Before McAuliffe's executive orders, the Sentencing Project estimated that Virginia disenfranchised one in five of African Americans, five times higher than the rate of those who weren't black. If Northam wins this election, he has promised to continue McAuliffe's policy of automatically restoring voting rights for all those who complete their sentences. But Gillespie would effectively restore part of a Jim Crow-era restriction that was literally created "to eliminate the darkey as a political factor," as one white-supremacist legislator stated at the time.
This election is also the first gubernatorial contest in the nation that will determine partisan control over redistricting after the 2020 census. As a former Republican National Committee chairman, Gillespie served as one of the architects of the GOP's successful 2010 effort to capture control over redistricting in state after state to gerrymander in majorities that defied the will of the voters.
If Gillespie becomes governor, Republicans would only need to maintain their majorities in 2019 in the state Senate and state House, the latter of whose districts already strongly favor them, in order to be able to gerrymander the legislative and congressional lines in 2021. However, if Northam prevails in 2017, he could veto future gerrymanders and force the courts to have to draw nonpartisan legislative districts instead. Consequently, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is spending another $250,000 to support Northam over the last two weeks, bringing their total investment to $1 million for this race.
Breaking the GOP's stranglehold on Congress starts with ending gerrymandering in the states. Please give $1 to each of these these Daily Kos-endorsed Democrats running for the Virginia House, and click here to GOTV.