Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan stopped in Charlottesville on Monday to unveil her plan to expand voting rights if elected.
Standing by the Free Speech Wall at the end of the Downtown Mall, a masked McClellan was flanked by a few dozen supporters as she spoke about her plan to expand voting rights. McClellan, who has served in the General Assembly for 16 years, is one of five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.
McClellan’s campaign stop came during the first week of early voting ahead of the June 8 Democratic primary.
The issue of voter suppression is personal, she said, pointing to experiences that her great-grandfather experienced when trying to register to vote in 1901, during the first wave of voter suppression targeted at Black Americans.
“My great-grandfather had to take a literacy test and find three white people to vouch for him just to be able to register to vote in 1901,” she said. “That was the first wave and it lasted a long time, as my grandfather and my own father had to pay poll taxes in order to vote.”
Many states are working to make voting more difficult, McClellan said, but Virginia is not among those states, which is a trend she plans to continue.
“In Virginia, because of you and because elections matter, we went from this, from the 47th state, in terms of ease of voting, but we can be No. 1 and we should be No. 1 as the birthplace of American democracy,” she said.
McClellan’s plan is broken down into eight major ideas that seek to continue Virginia’s expansion of voter access, she said.
McClellan’s Voting Rights Act of Virginia passed the General Assembly this year. Modeled after the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the act seeks to “protect all voters in the commonwealth from suppression, discrimination and intimidation, and expand language access to voters for whom English is a second language,” according to McClellan’s campaign literature.
Other aspects of McClellan’s voting rights platform include: automatically restoring the voting rights for ex-felons; implementing automatic voter registration; creating an automatic vote-by-mail system; increasing physical accessible at polling locations; ending gerrymandering; encouraging voting among high school students and young adults; and allowing for ranked-choice voting statewide.
Speaking on ranked-choice voting, McClellan said Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, had been a leader in working to see the process allowed statewide.
“If you have multiple candidates running, you want to make sure that you still have a candidate that represents a majority directly,” McClellan said. “By ranking each candidate one to three, the ones that get the least amount of votes get booted out and, based on the rankings, a winner is selected.”
McClellan answered questions from the crowd about other aspects of her campaign, including climate change and affordable housing.
Affordable housing had long been an issue prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is an issue tied to wages not meeting increases in the cost of construction, she said. McClellan said she and Hudson have worked with local governments to encourage more inclusionary zoning, and affordable housing tax credits passed this year should help, if funded.
“When the [CDC eviction moratorium] ends, those bills aren’t going to go away, and so we need to be investing in helping reduce that debt,” McClellan said. “We’re going to get some money from the federal government that will help us do that, but COVID has actually given us an opportunity to transform a lot of now-vacant commercial buildings into residential buildings.”
McClellan also expressed support for ending qualified immunity for police officers, making it easier for them to be sued for violating someone’s constitutional rights. Legislation to end qualified immunity has proven contentious in Virginia and has failed to gain traction amongst some Democrats.
“We had the opportunity twice in the last year to end qualified immunity in Virginia and I supported those bills and will push for that as governor,” she said.
Also in attendance at Monday’s event was Charlottesville City Councilor Lloyd Snook, who stood by McClellan while holding a campaign sign. Prior to McClellan’s speech, Bellamy Brown, chairman of the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board, endorsed McClellan.
McClellan also has been vocal in her support of civilian review boards and strengthening their ability to review police decisions within localities and regions.
“She’s been recognized for her extensive experience in the General Assembly — more experience than in all her opponents — and for her ability to build relationships and consensus and our commitment to equity for all Virginians,” Brown said. “She is a leader in criminal justice reform, creating jobs for Virginians and ensuring that all Virginians have the right to vote.”