VOTING IS A RIGHT, NOT A PRIVILEGE
Del. Sam Rasoul has served on the House Privileges & Elections Committee for eight years. He has fought tirelessly against Republican attempts to make it more difficult for Virginians to vote, particularly for Black and brown Virginians. As delegate, he has worked to expand and protect voting rights in the commonwealth.
This past year we saw our democratic institutions threatened by politicians that don’t believe in free and fair elections. Over the last decade, state legislatures across the country have put up barriers to voting by closing polling locations and enacting voter ID laws that disproportionately affect low-income and Black and brown Virginians. To strengthen our democracy, simply maintaining the post-Citizens United status quo won’t be good enough.
Virginia has a shameful history of using the criminal justice system to take away the right to vote, a policy that has disproportionately impacted Black and brown Virginians for more than 150 years. We have made some progress with the restoration of rights, but we can and should do more to work toward racial justice in the Commonwealth.
Because of the efforts of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, of which Sam is a member, Virginia has leaped from 49th to 12th regarding voting access in recent years, and this year Virginia became the first in the nation to pass its own Voting Rights Act. But there is more work to be done.
Many Virginians have lost faith in good governance because they see how large corporations and industry interest groups wield outsized influence in our state government by writing large campaign checks. Too many elected officials are listening to lobbyists who fund their campaigns, and not to the constituents they are supposed to represent. And the common perception is that voluntarily abstaining from corporate cash may put some of those politicians at a disadvantage if their opponents are gladly accepting big checks from lobbyists. This results in higher voter apathy and lower voter turnout, especially among younger voters who feel their voice doesn’t matter.
Most other rich nations with a multi-party system have higher voter participation in their elections.
HOW TO DISCUSS
Voting should be easy for all voters. No citizen should have to jump through hoops in order to exercise their right to vote. We need to ensure voting instructions are clear, polling locations remain consistent, and we keep the registration process as simple as possible for the voter.
Fight the outsized influence of corporations and industry interest groups. Our government cannot be responsive to the needs of working people if we are prioritizing the wishes of massive corporations. Virginia has been called the “wild west” of campaign finance because there currently is no limit to how much a donor can contribute to political campaign committees. Let’s end the era of corporate rule and make Virginia a commonwealth that will serve the common good of all Virginians.
Empower young Virginians. Young people across the country are driving the response to the climate emergency, and they will be living with the long-term effects of policies we enact today. We can and should empower the next generations of change-makers to participate in our democracy, as well as to stay engaged as young adults. Sam has built a model for this type of empowerment by listening to Teen Democrats and Teen Republicans’ idea to allow one excused absence for civic engagement, and introducing a bill signed into law this year.
Mass incarceration should not be a form of voter suppression. After the Civil War, Virginia and states across the nation passed laws taking away the right to vote for the incarcerated that were explicitly designed to limit the power of Black voters. These laws have no place in our democracy.
GIVE VIRGINIANS CONTROL OVER THEIR STATE GOVERNMENT
Ban Corporate Political Donations. Sam is running to be the first statewide official ever elected in Virginia where every dollar into his campaign is from individual donors only. Our government must prioritize the needs of working people over the whims of corporations. The only way we can begin to make that a reality is to ban corporate campaign contributions so the voices of everyday Virginians can be heard.
Put A Cap On Donations From Individuals and PACs. Virginia has been called the “Wild West” of campaign finance because, unlike federal races and campaigns in most other states, there is no campaign contribution limit. We need to rein in this out-of-control spending and pass reasonable contribution limits.
Ban Donations From Public Utilities. Sam has sponsored and supported legislation that would ban utility companies like Dominion from donating to the campaigns of the elected officials that regulate them. Giant monopolies like Dominion should not be the largest funders to the officials in charge of regulating them.
Public Funding For Campaigns. Small-dollar public financing is a powerful mechanism to limit the power of big donors and corporate lobbyists. Virginia should begin exploring a public financing system for elections that empowers small-dollar donors and campaigns that reject corporate money.
STRENGTHENING OUR DEMOCRACY
End All Voter Disenfranchisement. Most rich countries and some states never take away incarcerated citizens’ right to vote, including those incarcerated. Virginia should end the Jim Crow-era policy of felon disenfranchisement where mass incarceration can be used as a tool of voter suppression. Sam voted for a constitutional amendment that would restore the right to vote for the formerly incarcerated; now it is time to move forward and ensuring the ability to vote is never taken away.
Full Automatic Voter Registration. Virginia took a major step forward by enacting automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, not every Virginian owns a car or engages with the DMV. We should expand on that historic step by allowing for automatic voter registration through any government agencies that collect reliable citizenship information.
Ranked-Choice Voting. Voting in primaries doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Sam has sponsored legislation that would make it possible for voters to rank their choices in a crowded primary from favorite to least favorite, allowing Virginians to support more than one candidate on the ballot. Maine has adopted RCV, and so should Virginia.
People’s Platform Policy — Lower The Voting Age To 16. Young Virginians are our future, and they will be living with the decisions we make today for the decades ahead. Voting reforms enacted at the state level helped pave the way for women’s suffrage and lowering the voting age to 18 nationally. Virginia citizens 16 years and older should be able to vote in state and local elections. (Matt, Fairfax)