Public Comments for 01/25/2021 Privileges and Elections - Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee
Last Name: Jessie Forman Locality: 2513 2nd Avenue Richmond, Va 23222

My support is always with each of you. Thanks.

Last Name: Jessie Forman Organization: New Virginia Minority Chapter Locality: Richmond

Gm I am glad to be here you have my support in all that we do.

Last Name: Besa Organization: Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Locality: Chesterfield County

Sierra Club supports all five of these bills recognizing that if the committee moves to report, that the proposed constitutional amendments addressing 1) the right to same sex marriage and 2) the right of felons to have their political rights restored will move forward as two separate proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution. Sierra Club supports the principle and right of people to marry who they love.  With that in mind we support the three bills to repeal the Virginia constitutional provision prohibiting marriage by persons of the same sex.   Sierra Club supports an inclusive democracy and urges passage of a constitutional amendment that restores to individuals who have completed their sentence of imprisonment or active supervision, their political rights, including the right to vote. 

Last Name: Aliff Organization: Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists Locality: Mechanicsvlle

On behalf of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, I wish to express opposition to HB539, HB557, HB582 on the principle that marriage is a religious institution which has been clearly identified as a union of a man and woman for thousands of years. While the will of the people may eventually remove this from our state constitution, it is my hope that this will in no way disenfranchise our churches which hold to a different view. Sincerely, Eddy Aliff Executive Director

Last Name: Porte Organization: League of Women Voters of Virginia Locality: Arlington

The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports repealing the constitutional provision defining marriage as only a union between one man and one woman, and we support all marriages being treated equally under the law regardless of the sex or gender of the parties to the marriage. The League also hopes the General Assembly will consider that the civil status of marriage is already clearly distinguished from the religious institution of marriage and that religious rights will be preserved without additional language. Thank you.

Last Name: Brown Locality: HAMPTON

I support HJ546 and HJ555 because voting should be a RIGHT and not a PRIVILEGE, which is what voting currently is under current Virginia law. EVERY Virginian should be able to vote, whether or not they have a felony on their record and whether or not they're currently or formally incarcerated.

Last Name: Fishman Organization: Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington Locality: Fairfax County

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) supports HJ 546, restoring voter access to all Virginians. Enshrining in the Constitution the disenfranchisement of entire classes of people runs in direct contrast to the cornerstone of democracy – voting rights. The United States has a long history of struggling to overcome voter disenfranchisement and voter suppression initiatives. Our nation also continues to struggle to fix our flawed criminal justice system. Both issues disproportionately target and harm minority and impoverished communities. Virginia’s constitution, by disenfranchising those caught in our flawed justice system, compounds the injustice. HJ 546 gives us the opportunity to break this connection and strengthen the democratic process.

Last Name: DeRosa Organization: Spread the Vote / Arlington-Falls Church Locality: Arlington

I am the leader of the Arlington/Falls Church chapter of Spread the Vote, a 501c3 organization. I ask you to support this bill and report it to the full committee. Voting is a fundamental American right, but we have stripped nearly 400,000 Virginians of this right. They don’t lose other rights (e.g., freedom of speech, access to an attorney) even while incarcerated, yet they can’t vote for the people who pass laws that directly affect their lives. Most of those who are disenfranchised are people of color. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Black men in Virginia cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement. This is a form of racial injustice. And keep in mind, many were trapped by the extremely low felony threshold of $200 that persisted for 38 years, from 1980 until 2018. If you stole a phone or pair of shoes worth $201 in early 2018, you were charged with a felony. Yes, if you steal, you should be punished; but the punishment should be reasonable. For more than 3 years, our Spread the Vote volunteers have helped returning citizens check to see if their voting rights have been restored. Many believed that their civil rights had been lost permanently, for life. We helped many apply to request the restoration of those rights. Some of them were surprised to find out that they could have been voting for many years because their rights had already been restored. For various reasons – homelessness, lack of access to the internet - they had not been notified. For years, they were denied access to one of their fundamental rights. Although we prefer that Virginia citizens aged 18 or older never lose their voting rights, even while incarcerated (as is true in Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia), at the very least, we should make the restoration of their civil rights automatic. We shouldn’t require them to jump through hoops and “beg” to have their voting rights restored by the Governor. Virginia is one of the few states that does NOT automatically restore voting rights to returning citizens upon the completion of their sentences. It’s time to join the rest of the states and recognize that this fundamental democratic right belongs to all our citizens. Please support this bill. I do have one final request: I would ask the patron and this committee to delete the words, “or active supervision”, which will delay the rights restoration by many years. Once the returning citizen steps through the prison gates, they have served their sentence. They have been punished for their crime. Let us support them as they return to their community by restoring their full civil rights automatically. Thank you. Chris DeRosa Arlington, VA Resources: Sentencing Project https://www.sentencingproject.org/issues/voting-rights/ National Conference of State Legislatures https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/felon-voting-rights.aspx

Last Name: Nicholls Locality: Chesapeake

Remove the Gov. exception. This way the political views of one man doesn't override anything else. We the taxpaying voters are sick of Russian/Chinese dictatorships in 1st amendment America. I'm an independent, sick of partisan party politics.

Last Name: Blum Locality: Henrico

Felony disenfranchisement, in my view, has its origins in racism and efforts to block black citizens from voting. Its continuation to the present day is an example of systemic racism in action. Felony disenfranchisement continues to effect a far higher proportion of black citizens than white citizens, as a result of inequities in the criminal justice system. It is not clear to me why the right to vote is taken away from citizens who are convicted of crimes and incarcerated. The United States stands out in the developed world as having the greatest level of such disenfranchisement. Many countries limit such disenfranchisement and some countries (such as Israel) do not have any disenfranchisement for convicted felons. Within the United States, the degree of disenfranchisement varies, with 2 states (Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia having none. Virginia has been and continues to be one of the most restrictive, with restoration of voting rights not occurring automatically after a sentence has been completed. My view is that voting rights should never be removed from a citizen as a result of a crime that person has committed. I therefore view the current amendments (HJ 546 and HJ 555) as a step in the right direction, but not a satisfactory endpoint. I do, however, support them because they do represent a step in the right direction and perhaps this is all that can be accomplished at the current time.

End of Comments