The Virginia General Assembly on Thursday approved a comprehensive state-level Voting Rights Act by a 21-18 vote in the state senate. All votes in favor of House Bill 1890 came from Democrats.
The bill seeks to restore certain provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act that were gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision. It prohibits any sort of voting practice or procedure that would cause the denial or abridgment of the right to vote to any person based on race, color, or membership in a minority language group. If the governing body of a locality wants to make any changes to voting procedures, it would first have to publish the changes for a 30-day public comment period, following which anyone who might be adversely affected by the changes may challenge them in circuit court. The governing body could, in the alternative, submit its proposed changes to the office of the attorney general for prior approval.
The bill also prohibits at-large methods of election if they would result in the dilution or abridgment of the voting rights of the protected classes. In addition, the bill creates civil causes of action for certain unlawful acts, including intimidating voters or voting officials, and communicating false information to voters. Plaintiffs would be able to seek injunctions against such behaviors, as well as recover reasonable attorney’s fees. The bill creates civil penalties for interference with voting, not to exceed $1,000 per affected voter, proceeds of which would go to a Voter Education and Outreach Fund.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Democratic House Delegate Cia Price, said following the senate vote, “There is a concerted effort by the other party to restrict voting access but here in Virginia we have staved that off.” The bill now heads to Democratic governor Ralph Northam for his signature.