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Ghost of Carter Glass Haunts Debate About Voting Rights

Library of Congress

Lawmakers in Richmond are not just debating among themselves. They are also debating the ghosts of a state senator from a hundred years ago. Michael Pope has this look at the skeletons in the closet at the Capitol.

Meet state Senator Carter Glass of Lynchburg. No, he’s not currently serving in the General Assembly. He was here a hundred years ago, and is now infamous for creating the poll tax — an addition to the state Constitution specifically designed to prevent blacks from voting. Fast forward a hundred years, Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw says a modern-day constitutional amendment on voting rights essentially reinstates the poll tax by preventing people who haven’t paid court costs from voting.

"It's kind of hard to deal with this topic without thinking about Carter Glass because he did this to keep the blacks from voting. No other reason. That was it. And he stated that.”

Republican Leader Tommy Norment rejects that comparison.

“Don’t invoke what happened in 1902 to try to stir up some emotions on this thing.”

After a contentious debate on the history of racism in Virginia, senators narrowly approved a constitutional amendment that would remove the ability of the governor to restore voting rights for people who have not paid court costs. Lawmakers say they should be able to make that decision, not the governor.