Call to Action: Why Southern States Should Follow Virginia’s Footsteps on Voting Rights

Virginia has gone from 49th to 12th in the nation for voting access. It’s time more states, particularly in the South, act intentionally to pass voting rights legislation. 

Between January 1 and July 14, 2021, at least 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict access to the vote. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Virginia, including Del. Hala Ayala, are expanding voting protections. (Instagram)

The first time I truly felt the power of my vote was the day I cast my ballot for President Barack Obama. There are no words to explain the pride and hope I felt when I took my son with me to vote for our country’s first Black president. Voting in that booth, under my son’s eager, excited gaze, the possibilities for his and my future felt infinite. 

This political system certainly wasn’t built for someone like me, an Afro Latina single mother of two who worked her way from a minimum wage job at a gas station to a career in cybersecurity and a leadership position in the House of Delegates. However, thanks to the tireless civil rights activists and heroes who came before me, I stand here today ready to carry their torch and continue blazing a trail for the future. 

As America celebrates the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Virginia is also celebrating the astonishing amount of work we have done to amplify the voices of more Virginians than ever before.  

While across the country, we’ve witnessed unprecedented attacks on voting rights targeting Black and Brown voters, here in Virginia, we’ve done the exact opposite: Over the past few years, our Commonwealth has gone from 49th to 12th in the nation for voting access. While some legislators launched an attack on democracy, our House of Delegates made history by passing the South’s first Voting Rights Act. 

In the House of Delegates, I am proud to have introduced the bill that made Virginia the first Southern state to allow same-day voter registration, which has been proven to make voting easier and increase turnout, particularly among historically marginalized Black and Brown voters. 

Virginia’s General Assembly took action to expand access to the ballot box. We increased early in-person absentee voting. We delivered automatic voter registration and the automatic restoration of rights amendment for formerly incarcerated Virginians. We fought to pay for postage on absentee ballots and extend polling location hours. 

Our accomplishments in Virginia serve as concrete evidence that our democracy is at its best when every single voice is heard. While we’ve come so far in our fight for progress, we have much further to go. 

Virginia may have been the first Southern state to pass the Voting Rights Act and deliver same-day voter registration, but we certainly cannot be the last. It’s time for more states, particularly in the South, to follow our Commonwealth’s footsteps and act intentionally to pass voting rights legislation. 

Democracy is a verb. It requires action and a willingness to make good trouble to ensure that every individual has a seat at the table. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 put us further along the path to justice, but we must stay vigilant in our fight for progress. 

Beyond passing legislation to expand access to the ballot box, we must also work to preserve faith in the integrity and security of our elections. We must combat misinformation and stand up to anyone campaigning on dangerous lies about stolen elections. 

Here in Virginia, I will actively work to move our Commonwealth forward and champion voting rights because I recognize that democracy is not a spectator sport.

By engaging every voter and lifting up every voice, we will elect more leaders who look more like the communities they represent. We’ll continue this trend of shattering glass ceilings and we’ll plant seeds to empower more future leaders with bold visions to move our nation forward.

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Delegate Hala Ayala first ran for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 for the state's 51st district, which covers much of Prince William County. When she won, she became the first Afro-Latina elected to Virginia’s General Assembly. In early 2020, Ayala and Jennifer Carroll Foy co-sponsored a resolution for Virginia's Equal Rights Amendment ratification and led the fight to make the state the 38th and final state necessary to ratify the ERA and to make it a part of the U.S. Constitution.