Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia cleared the way for a landmark voting rights bill to become law in his state on Thursday, announcing his approval of a sweeping proposal that recreates one of the core components of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that has since been hollowed out by the Supreme Court.
The bill, called the Virginia Voting Rights Act, would recreate a process known as “preclearance” for any changes to election administration and logistics that would impact voting. Any locality in Virginia wishing to make changes to precinct locations, move elections offices and other changes would have to either hold a public comment period or seek approval from the state attorney general.
“At a time when voting rights are under attack across our country, Virginia is expanding access to the ballot box, not restricting it,” Mr. Northam said in a statement. “With the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, our Commonwealth is creating a model for how states can provide comprehensive voter protections that strengthen democracy and the integrity of our elections. I am proud to support this historic legislation, and I urge Congress to follow Virginia’s example.”
The provision is very similar to section 5 of the original federal Voting Rights Act, which forced states with a history of segregation and racially targeted voter suppression laws to obtain approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes to voting laws, regulations or administration. Virginia was one of the states under preclearance.
But the Supreme Court hollowed out enforcement of section 5 in a landmark decision in 2013, Shelby v. Holder, effectively removing the protection across the country.
Virginia’s bill protecting and expanding access to voting comes at a time when Republican legislatures across the country have been seeking to erect new barriers to the ballot box. Georgia passed a law last week overhauling the state’s election process with a host of new restrictions, and Texas, Arizona, Florida and other states are continuing efforts to pass similar bills.
Mr. Northam, a Democrat, said that he made minor technical adjustments to the bill, which was sponsored by Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Marcia Price, two Black lawmakers who are also Democrats. It is expected to be ratified by the state legislature when they reconvene on April 7 for final passage.