NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam was in Newport News on Monday to ceremonially sign the Voting Rights Act of Virginia.
Northam officially signed the legislation earlier this year, which his office says will provide comprehensive protections against voter suppression, discrimination or intimidation. It’s a piece of major legislation passed in this year’s General Assembly.
“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 back in March.
Northam and others gathered in the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in Newport News on Monday, Sept. 13 and heard from people like Tram Nguyen with the New Virginia Majority, an organization whose sole purpose is to secure voting rights.
“The Voting Rights Act of Virginia is probably the most consequential and impactful pieces of legislation ever,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen says Virginia has already moved up among other states from 38 to 12 in creating a comfortable atmosphere in which to vote.
Del. Marcia Price, who represents parts of Newport News and Hampton in the House of Delegates, introduced the legislation in the House.
“Virginia is standing strong against a coordinated and intentional effort to restrict voting rights across the nation,” Price said. “These targeted restrictions are designed to disenfranchise people of color, working Americans, and non-native English speakers.
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who introduced the bill in the Senate, was also at the signing on Monday.
“Democracy is not stationary. It is an action that requires each generation to do its part to build the beloved community that others and Dr. King worked so hard to build, and we have not yet achieved,” McClellan said.
McClellan also told personal stories about her great-grandfather after the Civil War.
“My great-grandfather had to find three white men to vouch for him after the Civil War, and he had to take a literacy test just to be able to register to vote. My great-grandfather and grandfather both had to pay poll taxes” she said.
Virginia was the first state to enact its own version of a voting rights act, as Republican-led state legislatures across the country are looking to restrict voting.
Northam called voting the backbone of our democracy, with 45 days of early voting beginning Friday, Sept. 17.
“It’s not always convenient to vote on Election Day, so no excuse absentee voting is a no-brainer and that’s coming from a neurologist,” Northam said, as the crowd reacted with laughter.
As Price spoke during Monday’s ceremonial signing, a lone protester to democratic efforts to change election laws to get out the vote tried shouting her down. However, Price kept talking without taking a breath, so the protester’s sound would be drowned out by her booming voice.
“We arrived here today because of our collective determination to keep Virginia moving forward, and to resist the disgraceful history of voter suppression,” Price said.
The protester — who was wearing sunglasses and a mask — refused to give his name when asked.
“There’s nobody stopping people from voting. That is a big lie. It’s a myth, and it’s a way to get people all riled up and we know it,” he said.
The early voting period begins Friday.