Virginia's Fight Over Voting Laws Continues

In the Nation, Brentin Mock discusses how Virginia's laws are written to disenfranchise former felons and what one local is doing to fight back.

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The 2012 presidential election might be over, but the fight against voting laws that disenfranchise continues. Especially in Virginia, Brentin Mock writes in The Nation, where the struggle to overturn legal language barring felons from the right to vote is going strong.

As Virginia tried to patch together new versions of its state constitution from 1867 into the new century, it undoubtedly added amendments that robbed African Americans of their voting rights. One notable amendment, from 1876, added petty larceny to the list of felony offenses that would prevent someone from voting, because it was a crime most attributed to black people, according to scholars. It was Virginia's way of disenfranchising black people without stating it explicitly in the law.

More evidence: The 1901 Virginia Constitutional Convention featured a delegate Walter Watson who stated that the "great underlying principle of this Convention movement , the one object and cause which assembled this body, was the elimination of the negro from the politics of the state." And that was not, by far, an isolated or anomalous sentiment at the Convention.

Today, Virginia's felony disenfranchisement law--formed, in part, during that notorious time period--is being challenged by Sa'ad El-Amin, a former Richmond city council member, before he was convicted of felony tax evasion. As I reported in October, El-Amin is suing the state in U.S. District Court, not to have his own rights restored, but to have the felony disenfranchisement law struck as unconstitutional for violating equal protection, due process and cruel and unusual punishment clauses.

Read Brentin Mock's entire piece at the Nation.

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