Black voters in Virginia are banking on Democrat Terry McAuliffe to protect voting rights, mirroring a similar battle that’s loomed large on the national stage.
Supporters of Mr. McAuliffe, who needs a strong Black turnout to win the governorship, said they want the candidate to keep voting easily accessible in the state, rejecting Republican Glenn Youngkin’s pitch for strengthening election laws.
“Enthusiasm for Black voters is very different because voting is a matter of life or death for us,” said Monica Hutchinson, 41, of Richmond. “So, we are motivated. We are engaged. We’re tuned in.”
The issue of voting rights has been a battle for Democrats in Congress and a centerpiece of President Biden’s campaign promise to update the Voting Rights Act.
During a Thursday town hall on CNN, Mr. Biden said he would consider getting rid of the Senate filibuster to get his voting agenda passed.
Mr. Biden’s comment came as Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic-led bill that would expand mail-in voting, early voting, and would make Election Day a public holiday.
Eddie Smith, 50, of Lake Ridge, said he’s disappointed by the lack of action on voting rights in Washington and doesn’t want Virginia to follow the example of several GOP-led state legislatures that are seeking to enhance voting restrictions.
“I’m really disappointed in the Democrats, from the standpoint that you’re in control of all three houses, yet nothing is really getting done,” said Mr. Smith, a retired federal worker and Air Force veteran.
Mr. Smith, who called himself a political independent, said he disagreed with the push by Republicans to enact election-law changes after concerns raised in 2020 about expanded mail-in voting.
Mr. Youngkin has campaigned on his own “election integrity” pitch, promising to enact voter ID and to clean up state voter rolls.
“All of these Republican governors [are pushing] these bills to limit the vote and to disenfranchise brown and minority people of color,” Mr. Smith said. “This nation is broken. Everybody should have the right to vote and the access to vote.”
The Virginia General Assembly increased access to voting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping in place a 45-day window for early voting across the state.
Mr. McAuliffe, who is deadlocked with Mr. Youngkin in the polls, has been warning voters for months about voting access being at risk if the Republican wins.
In a new ad last week, former President Barack Obama, who stumped for Mr. McAuliffe on Saturday, touted the Democrat’s record on voting rights.
Mr. McAuliffe has also attacked his opponent’s initiatives to curb voting rules in Virginia, tying his proposals to former President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud.
Mr. Youngkin has rejected the notion that the Virginia elections were fraudulent in 2020, calling election security a nonpartisan, democracy issue. The Republican said in the first debate against Mr. McAuliffe he wants to ensure election security in a manner similar to Florida’s response to the disputed 2000 presidential election.
“That’s the kind of investment I’ll make when I’m governor,” Mr. Youngkin said. “I’ll invest in making sure our voter rolls are updated. I’ll ask everyone to show up to vote with a photo ID.”
Johnny Byrd, 65 of Woodbridge, who attended a rally with Mr. McAuliffe and Vice President Kamala Harris last week, said he wasn’t opposed to Mr. Youngkin’s push for voter ID, but thinks barriers should be lessened to allow people to get one.
“I do believe that voter ID is very important,” Mr. Byrd said. “I carry my IDs everywhere. But, I don’t think it should be made an issue for people to get their ID. I know the pandemic has been [hard] for people to get their IDs renewed.”
Mr. Byrd said candidates should express confidence in the state’s elections, trusting that officials are ensuring a fair process.
“I trust the process,” Mr. Byrd said. “With the screening and other people that are working in the elections you know that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do.”
A Monmouth University poll from last week had Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Youngkin tied at 46%. The poll, conducted from Oct. 16-19, surveyed 1,005 registered voters and had an error margin of +/-3.1%.
Early voting is underway in Virginia. Election Day is Nov. 2.