Today, Jay Johnson, longtime board member and former-chairperson of Virginia Organizing spoke at a voting rights press conference at the General Assembly. The press conference was put together by our friends at Virginia New Majority and included a delivery of thousands of petition signatures asking Governor McDonnell to veto voter suppression bills, SB 1 and HB 63. Here's what Jay said:
Good afternoon my name is Jay Johnson and am on the state governing board of Virginia Organizing.
Virginia Organizing was founded 17 years ago to encourage the participation of those who have traditionally had little or no voice in our society. For many years, we have registered voters and encouraged civic participation for all Virginians. Virginia Organizing believes the more people who participate in our Democracy, the stronger it will be.
For this reason, I am deeply concerned by the voter suppression legislation that was passed by this years’ Virginia General Assembly.
These bills will disproportionately affect seniors, minorities and low-income Virginians who may not have the required identification. As a 72 year-old Black Virginian, I am deeply skeptical of anyone who is tampering with my right to vote.
I am saddened to see the General Assembly support this kind of voter suppression. Every adult in my family paid poll taxes for the 'privilege' of voting in this 'democratic' country. It is disgraceful that our legislators would again trample the voting rights of a portion our state's population.
I see the Voter ID bills as another poll tax – only this time the expense is incurred by all poor and vulnerable citizens – White, Black and Brown.
Our legislators have seen the numbers. They understand that nearly 11 percent of American voters lack the proper ID. They know that number gets even higher when it comes to seniors, Blacks and low-income residents. They understand exactly whom these bills target. Bills like SB1 are designed to keep certain voters from the polls. They are political and have nothing to do with keeping our democracy strong. While our legislators decry the fake-boogeyman that is voter fraud, they know, deep down that their goal is to disenfranchise as many voters as possible. And with Governor McDonnell’s signature, they could be successful in keeping hundreds of thousands of voters from the polls this year.
I find it ironic and sad that legislators do not have to courage to own up to their voter suppression attempts. In my younger days, legislators in these halls would have been much more blatant about this kind of voter suppression and what it means for Blacks, seniors and low income Virginians. They would not have even bothered to find a red herring like voter fraud. I’m not sure if this 2012 version of “civil” voter suppression is better or worse. At least, back then, you knew where you stood. And you knew exactly what they were trying to do.
Jim Crow disguised as laws fighting nonexistent voter fraud, is still Jim Crow. The people of Virginia are not stupid and they understand what these laws are about.
I am not only concerned about what SB and HB 63 will do to Black Virginians but to seniors as well. Many seniors lack voter identification and will be kept from the polls. I have voted in the same town and the same polling located for many years. I never bring my ID to the polls and don’t feel that I should have to. Many seniors have lost their identification because they do not drive and perhaps have not seen their birth certificate for decades. This should not deny them their right to participate in our democracy. It’s utterly appalling to think about WW11 Veterans or Civil Rights activists who fought to strengthen our democracy being kept from the polls because of a legislature playing politics.
Governor McDonnell should follow the recommendation of hundreds of churches and organizations, thousands of petition signatures and numerous editorials in Virginians newspapers including the Washington Post, and veto these terrible voter suppression bills.
In the year of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, our legislators should be giving us reason to celebrate how far Virginia has come. Instead they are moving us backwards.