Do you know where your candidate stands on voting rights?

The issue of guaranteeing the right to vote for all citizens is rarely brought up in debates or during the campaign trail. As the law stands, the right to vote is not guaranteed to all Virginians. It can be taken away due to a felony conviction, and many people are turned away at the polls for not having the correct ID or affected by other laws designed to limit access to voting. Knowing a candidate’s position on this issue is very important. Voting in America is our fundamental right, not a privilege. It’s our duty to protect everyone’s voting rights by electing people who will work to end voter disenfranchisement.

The Commonwealth is the second-hardest state to vote in, and these barriers have an unfair, disproportionate impact on the African American community. The Jim Crow-era law of permanently stripping the right to vote from people at the time of a felony conviction is dehumanizing and should not be the punishment in addition to serving time. Other rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, such as freedom of religion and speech, are not taken away when someone is convicted of a felony, and the right to vote should be no different.

Voters in jail awaiting trial or serving a misdemeanor are eligible to vote but often aren’t able to exercise that right. They face barriers from lack of access to register to vote, absentee ballots, the polls, and information about their rights.

Prison and jail populations count toward the apportionment of our legislative body, but many people who are incarcerated don’t have the ability or access to voting, ultimately creating an unfair representation in our democracy. In addition to the lack of representation for the incarcerated populations, there are over 300,000 people who have served their time but can’t vote due to disenfranchisement.

People in prisons and jails aren’t the only ones who face hurdles on the way to exercising the right to vote. Virginia’s strict voter ID laws prevent many people from voting, especially elderly people, transgender people, people of color, and other marginalized communities.

Our democracy is weakened because of voter disenfranchisement and strict voting laws. It’s time candidates made protecting voting rights a priority, especially in Virginia, where every vote counts. They should be looking for solutions that make voting more accessible to all citizens and Virginia residents over 18.

Before heading to the polls on Nov. 5, learn where your candidates stand on voting rights. If they don’t have a public position on voting rights, ask them on social media. Let’s make it clear that the right and access to voting is essential for a strong democracy.