Virginia is the first state to enact its own version of the federal Voting Rights Act, according to Northam’s office.
“At a time when voting rights are under attack across our country, Virginia is expanding access to the ballot box, not restricting it,” Northam said in a statement.
The Democratic governor made minor technical changes to the bill, which must be approved by the legislature before it becomes law, according to Alena Yarmosky, senior communications adviser to Northam.
“With the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, our Commonwealth is creating a model for how states can provide comprehensive voter protections that strengthen democracy and the integrity of our elections. I am proud to support this historic legislation, and I urge Congress to follow Virginia’s example.”
The legislation would require local election officials to get feedback through public comment or pre-approval from the attorney general’s office in order to make any changes in voting regulations, according to a release from Northam’s office.
It also requires that local election officials provide voting materials in foreign languages as needed. Individuals who experience voter suppression will also be allowed to sue, where any civil penalties awarded will go toward a newly established Voter Education and Outreach Fund.
Voting rights groups, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, hailed the passage as a victory for voters of color.
“Now, all commonwealth communities, no matter their racial and ethnic demographics, have an equal opportunity to cast their vote and have their voices heard,” Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyer’s Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“As our nation continues its reckoning with structural racism and systemic inequality, we hope that other states will follow suit and expand voting rights protections so communities who have been traditionally disenfranchised will no longer have to worry about egregious barriers to the ballot box,” Johnson-Blanco said.