Is VA. Gov. McDonnell Bringing Back Jim Crow Voting Literacy Tests?

April 13, 2010

(ChattahBox)—The newly-elected Republican Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, is once again under fire for another executive decision to transform the Commonwealth of Virginia into a right-wing paradise. Right on the heels of an offensive state proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month, without mentioning slavery, McDonnell is now again angering Civil Rights leaders, Democratic lawmakers and the ACLU. McDonnell wants to add a written essay requirement for the restoration of voting rights to non-violent felons. But his critics are calling the essay requirement, a return to the Jim Crow era of literacy tests to deprive minority citizens of their right to vote.

The essay requirement was done away with in 2006. Virginia and Kentucky are the only states that do not grant automatic restoration of rights, after a felon has completed his or her sentence. The written essay would require details about the circumstances of their arrest and conviction, accomplishments in education or community service, and why the restoration is justified.

Critics of the new requirement contend it would unfairly deprive uneducated and minority citizens of their voting rights, after committing non-violent crimes, such as drug use, embezzlement, larceny and DUIs.

Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said in a statement that the governor “appears to have reinstated the literacy test in Virginia” and that for people with limited education, the new requirement “is a nearly insurmountable obstacle.”

And the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said: “Governor McDonnell’s decision to use the executive power granted to him to transform the restoration of voting rights from an objective process to a subjective one that is contingent on an original essay for nonviolent offenders is taking a horrific step back towards the era of Jim Crow. Make no mistake, the new essay requirement is an obstruction that will lead to judging applicants on the basis of political beliefs and ideological considerations.”

McDonnell dismisses the criticism of his new voting rights written requirement, saying it’s meant to streamline the process, to make it possible for non-felons to receive a decision on their applications within 90-days. And the governor denies that he is proposing an “essay,” referring to the requirement, as “a simple statement of what the person has done in order to be reintegrated into society, a little bit about the crime, what they’ve done to get back into society – any community activities.”

But his Democratic critics are demanding that he do away with the “statement” nevertheless. State lawmaker Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), believes the requirement violates the separation of powers and she is demanding that he rescind the written essay.

And the House Democratic Caucus is charging McDonnell with restoring back-door literacy tests. “By creating an additional, unnecessary and egregious hurdle, McDonnell has violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the Federal Voting Rights Act,” read the statement.

Soon after McDonnell took office, he sought to deprive gay citizens from state discrimination protections, angering gay rights groups. Next he angered Civil Rights leaders with his Confederacy proclamation, in which he excluded slavery, as not significant enough. Now, the devotee of televangelist Pat Robertson appears to be taking aim at minority voters to deprive them of their voting rights, hearkening back to the pre-Voting Rights Act Jim Crow laws.

Whose next on McDonnell’s right-wing hit list?


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