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Minority Voting Rights Take Center Stage in Final Days of General Assembly Session

Lawmakers are considering an effort to create new safeguards to prevent minority voters from being disenfranchised.

Imagine the scenario: You show up to vote, and your precinct has been moved to a warehouse. And the warehouse is a mile away from the nearest bus stop. These are the kinds of changes the U.S. Department of Justice used to review, but that no longer happens because of a Supreme Court decision.

Delegate Schuyler Van Valkenburg says all the other efforts to make voting easier and more accessible doesn’t make much difference if their precincts have been moved in a way that prevents them from voting.  “It’s really important that people have access to vote, but you also have to protect them on the back end because if they can’t get to a precinct because it’s too far away or because their locality drew a line in a way that takes away their fair vote, what good is their expanded access?”

That’s why he introduced a bill to create a state level preclearance system he hopes will prevent people from being disenfranchised. Tram Nguyen at New Virginia Majority says this will help make sure everyone gets to vote. “And so we’re just saying let’s take a look at these and make sure there’s no retrogression, there’s no disproportionate impact on communities of color being able to exercise their franchise instead of after the fact when somebody’s already lost their right to vote and there’s no remedy.”

VanValkenburg’s bill has now passed the House and the Senate.  One final, technical vote Friday morning in the House sent it to the governor.

The House is also considering an amendment to the constitution that could dramatically change how legislative districts are drawn, but a new plan proposed Thursday evening may mean the existing system stays in place for the next redistricting in 2021.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.