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Youngkin's Executive Order Disenfranchises Thousands Of Virginians-- In Time For The 2023 Election

I always feel some bit of satisfaction when national polling numbers show the GOP’s “great white hope,” Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin polling at between zero and 2% among Republican voters. He narrowly won (with 50.6% of the vote) a lesser of two evils election, the kind of contest Democrats stupidly walk into whenever they can. He’s trying to govern as though he had a real mandate. For example, this week we found out that he just gave himself a lot more power to pick and choose Virginia voters, telling “state lawmakers in a letter last week that he was rescinding his predecessors’ policy of automatically restoring the voting rights of people with felony convictions.”

Going forward, Virginians will no longer regain their rights when released from prison— the most recent policy announced by Virginia officials in 2021— nor at any later point, unless Youngkin deems them to be worthy on an individual basis.
His decision, which a future governor could alter, sidelines many residents who expected they would get to vote in Virginia elections.
…Youngkin’s announcement also puts Virginia in a category all its own: It is the only state where someone who is convicted today over any felony is presumed to be barred from voting for life, with no remedy other than receiving a discretionary act of clemency from the governor.

This year— not 2024— Virginians will be electing a new General Assembly. Right now Democrats narrowly control the state Senate (22-18) and Republicans narrowly control the House of Delegates (52-48). So far, Blue America has endorsed 3 progressives running for the Senate and 5 progressives running for the House. The primary is in June, with a mid-May deadline for voter registration.

I asked one candidate running for each body how they viewed Youngkin’s executive order. Victoria Luevanos is running in a swing district primarily composed of part of Virginia Beach City (68%), plus all of Accomack County (16%) plus all of Northampton County (6%) and part of Norfolk City (10%). The MAGA incumbent is Bill DeSteph, an anti-Choice crusader. Although Youngkin won the district in 2021, Tim Kaine won it in 2018.

Yesterday she told me that she’d “be lying if I said that this shocks me, Republicans actually helping Americans get their constitutional rights back is too farfetched for them, it's always a power grab. Assessing restoration on an individual basis is all about power, especially since there is no guaranteed criteria to follow that can keep any governor accountable. We don't know if they're only restoring voting rights to wealthy Virginia's, Virginian's who donated significantly to their campaign, Virginian's who are in a certain demographic or ethnicity, or any reason they feel like making this decision on.”

She said that “Its kind of ironic that in 2021 Youngkin’s underage son tried to vote twice after being told he was ineligible to vote and returning 30 minutes later, once is an accident but twice, I don't think so. If Virginia Republicans keep moving our state into becoming Florida, Youngkins own son would be a felon right now and his father as governor... evaluating his own child on an individual basis, I'm sure we all know how that would end. Like many, I'm a supporter of getting these issues voted on as a ballot measure, because we know these aren't issues of party division and a majority of Virginian's would vote in alignment of automatic registration. But some ‘public servants’ come into office for power or because it's a career move, not because they want to help everyone in their community. Hopefully in the next election we can get them out of office and let them move on with their lives so advocates of the community can come in.”

Branden Riley is one of the best hopes to flip the House of Delegates from red to blue. He’s running in a new blue-leaning swing district south of Richmond that includes all of Petersburg City and Prince George County plus part of Dinwiddie County. “Voting rights,” he told me, “are what ensures we have a voice in society in how our laws are passed and how we direct the government to spend our tax dollars. This nation was largely founded on the principle of “No Taxation Without Representation”. When someone is convicted of a felony, more times than not they’re from a disenfranchised community, and they involuntarily lose their voting rights. I fundamentally believe that once their punishment is over, they should involuntarily have their rights restored.”

As a man who is black in America, I have a number of friends and family members who have made mistakes and ended up with felonies. Howbeit, they’ve served their time, found their way, and are productive members of society, even contributing their tax dollars. Shouldn’t they have a say in how it’s spent? Or should they be tax exempt forever?
Maybe I’m making too much sense of this. The mere act of Breaking the social contract, we never signed yet are required/forced to abide by isn’t moral grounds for someone to be permanently banned from directly changing it. What do we do with the bad laws or those which are predatory? Why is slavery still legal? Why is cannabis a plant that has many healing and stress relieving properties banned at the federal level even in trace amounts? Yet there are so many drugs readily available in lethal doses available to virtually anyone. We see these drugs consuming the lives of young people daily. Governor Youngkin wants to ban former Felons as a direct means of black voter suppression. He’s advocating for a collection of laws that are reminiscent of modern-day Jim Crow; will the history books of the future call it the Young Codes?
I’m running in a district that would be disproportionately affected by laws of unforgiveness and racially charged voter suppression. I, Branden Riley, won’t stand for it, I will be on the right side of history. I will rise for my community. I will speak up and speak on the characteristics of love, forgiveness, and atonement. That is the least I can do for my neighbors. I plan to do much more.

Please consider contributing to Branden’s and Victoria’s campaigns by clicking on the Blue America state legislative elections thermometer above. (It's a live link that will take you to our ActBlue page.)

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