In what can most graciously be described as convenient timing, embattled Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Tuesday that he will restore voting rights to 10,992 citizens previously convicted of a felony.
The Virginia Constitution (specifically Article II, Section I) mandates anyone convicted of a felony be stripped of their voting rights for the rest of their lives unless the governor steps in. The state’s past three governors have slowly loosened the legal restrictions so that those with nonviolent felony convictions don’t face as many financial roadblocks to appeal the lifetime voting ban.
To be clear, Northam’s decision is not unique or particularly praiseworthy but is simply the non-asshole thing to do—his predecessor Terry McAuliffe restored the voting rights of 173,166 Virginians by the time he left office, according to the governor’s office.
While Tuesday’s announcement is a net positive in that it allows over 10,000 citizens to rejoin the democratic process, it’s hard to look at Virginia’s current legal stance on felony voting rights as anything other than affront to that same process.
According to WTKR, Virginia is one of three states to impose a lifetime voting ban on felons, along with Kentucky and Iowa. And the state’s GOP has done everything possible to ensure that efforts to rectify the situation are killed before they even make it to a full chamber vote. Last month, Democrats Sen. Mamie Locke and Sen. Louise Lucas both offered proposals—SJ 261 and SJ 262, respectively—that would have removed the lifetime ban. However, after the two bills were folded into one, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Election—a 14-member committee with an 8-6 advantage for Republicans—voted down the measure along party lines, per the station.
As has been proven by numerous other state legislatures and voters, Virginia’s decision to loosen its executive stopgap is a low fucking bar when it comes to fixing disenfranchisement for those with felony convictions, an issue rooted in Jim Crow laws that continues to disproportionally affect minority communities. Most recently, Florida voters, not the state legislature, made the decision to combat disenfranchisement by passing a constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to over a million people in the Sunshine State. (Naturally, that effort also faced pushback from the state Republican Party.)
It’s also difficult not to be cynical about the timing of this news. Embroiled in one of the two blackface scandals facing Virginia’s top elected officials, Northam has been in desperate need of something, anything, that could be construed as Good News out of his administration. Unfortunately, pulling from the same bag as his predecessor and ignoring every call for him to resign isn’t going to cut it. If he somehow survives it through his full term, here’s hoping those 10,992 newly-restored voters primary his ass come 2022.