It began in Mrs. Daily’s second grade class. We were casting votes for the Governor of Virginia. The contest was between Chuck Robb and Marshall Colemen. I voted for Mr. Robb (and told everyone in my class to do the same). That night, I watched the election night returns with my grandparents. I remember the excitement that coursed through me when I saw that the person I voted for, won. I thought, “Me, a second grader, just elected the Governor!”
Fast forward to 1992. I was a freshman at Radford University and couldn’t wait to vote in my first real election which was also a presidential election. My Dad drove to campus and picked me up. Together we went to the Christiansburg Armory to vote. For months I had listened intently to George Bush, Ross Perot and Bill Clinton on different news programs. I knew where each candidate stood on the positions I cared about. That day, I proudly cast my vote for William Jefferson Clinton. Voting was familiar to me. My family voted every year. Members of my Church family actively participated in the election process as well. From a young child, it was instilled in me: we vote. Imagine my surprise when I learned that most people did not vote. Why would people not vote? Haven’t they seen “Eyes on the Prize” and learned what I had? Voting is important! Look at what was happening politically in the 1990s: Operation Desert Storm, the beating of Rodney King, and the L.A. riots. As a citizen, wouldn’t you want to influence our nation’s political response? What I had yet to learn is that people, specifically Black people, are kept from voting.
Voter suppression shows itself in many ways. Poll taxes, literacy tests and guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar have been replaced with photo ID requirements, the purging of voter rolls, matching of signatures, removal of polling locations or reduction in the number of voting machines used in a given precinct. Such methods demonstrate how suppression schemes have become more sophisticated. Last year, I had the opportunity to interview Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan. She shared a story with me about a conversation she had with then Governor Bob McDonnell in 2010 during a Legislative Black Caucus dinner. Governor McDonnell asked her about race relations and Senator McClellan used the opportunity to share how the antecedent to voter ID laws was rooted in the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 – which required all birth and marriage certificates in Virginia to include a person’s race as either “white” or “colored.” Senator McClellan explained that the legacy of the Racial Integrity Act had a direct impact on the first Voter ID laws being introduced in that year. You see, understanding history and how it impacts past and current law is important and Senator McClellan understood that. But let us be clear, while voter suppression has always meant to target Black people, it also hurts the poor, the elderly and other communities of color. And wherever voter suppression appears, its ugly sibling, voter intimidation, lurks nearby.
Voter Intimidation while rare and unlikely, is the attempt to interfere with your or anyone’s right to vote. What might intimidation look like today? It could be someone aggressively questioning voters about their citizenship, criminal record, or other qualifications. It could be someone falsely presenting themselves as an elections’ official or someone spreading false information about voter requirements. Voter intimidation cannot be tolerated.
On this year’s ballot, along with electing our next President, Vice President, U.S. Senator, Representative and local officials, there are two proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution. Amendment #1 proposes the establishment of a Virginia Redistricting Commission. Amendment #2 proposes adding to the list of property not subject to state or local taxation for veterans of the armed services or Virginia National Guard if they have a service-related total disability. Let’s examine more about proposed Amendment #1.
Creation of a Redistricting Commission is on the ballot to address the issue of gerrymandering, which is the manipulation of an electoral constituency’s geographic boundaries so as to favor one party or class. We can all agree that gerrymandering is bad for citizens. No one party should be favored over the other. We know that both Democrats and Republicans have perpetuated and benefited from this practice. The question is: should they? How is gerrymandering bad for voters? Let’s look at an example. The Virginia House of Delegates has 100 seats; the Virginia Senate has 40. According to the latest statistics, Montgomery County and Roanoke City have approximately equivalent sized populations; about 99,000 people each. Yet Montgomery County has three state delegates and three state senators. But Roanoke City has only two state delegates and one state senator. Is that fair? I would say no. But what is the remedy? For more than 10 years, Republicans, Democrats and Independents in the commonwealth have been working collectively to end gerrymandering. An independent, nonpartisan, equitable approach to redistricting could benefit all citizens. But is this amendment the answer?
Now, I could tell you how to vote just as I did in the 2nd grade, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I encourage you research the details yourself. For an overview about the proposed amendments, see elections.virginia.gov/proposed-constitutional-
amendment-2020/. Regarding redistricting: visit www.fairmapsva.org to understand what “YES” would mean. Visit www.fairdistrictsva.com to understand what a “NO” vote means.
Our October issue features articles related to voting and public service. We introduce Joe Sheffey, a long-time public servant who’s impact on Pulaski County has been immeasurable. We profile Poarch Thompson, a female-led law firm passionate about protecting and advocating for Southwest Virginia’s immigrant community. And we’ve included a tribute to the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Oh, and our cover features none other than the owners of Thai This Express, a hometown favorite restaurant!
As we were in the final stages of this issue, our nation learned of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. A giant. A fighter. A woman to whose shoulders we stand. She believed the “we” in the US Constitution expanded. Wow! We have seen that “we” expand not just with the freeing of slaves but in our own lifetime with women gaining the right to vote, equal pay and protections of and for the LGBTQ + community. Let her legacy be one of a continual expansion and understanding of “We”.
At ColorsVA, we believe voting is a right every eligible citizen should exercise. This year, Virginia offers three ways to vote: by Mail, In-Person Early or on November 3rd. Your right to vote is precious. Make a Plan to vote today!