Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe yesterday issued an executive order restoring the right to vote to all his state’s felons who have completed their sentences. 200,000 appear to be eligible pursuant to the order.

McAuliffe said that his order would finish the work begun by President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation; that Virginia especially had lagged in this regard. He is right to so say; but that is far from the entire story as I see it.

Voting rights are fundamental to our democracy. Every citizen adult should have them, and safeguarded zealously. And voting rights have importance well beyond the duties of citizenship.

Nothing in our nation’s life more surely commits immigrants to our values than the right to vote. Not language, not religion (or lack thereof), not headscarves or no headscarves, not cuisine or national origin : none of these commit a person to our national soul the way the right to vote does.

When you possess the right to vote, and have actually registered as a voter, candidates seek you out, talk to you, visit you and shake your hand. Your opinion is asked. Your vote is asked for. You become important to the body politic and the entire community that elects it and which it serves. Active in campaigns for decades, I have seen close up the difference in  connection, attitude, and awareness between people who vote and those who aren’t even registered. Long ago, I coached youth sports. We liked to say that engagement in organized sports kept kids from trouble. That was mostly true; and to an even larger degree, participation in voting keeps residents of o0ur nation committed to its laws and ways.

I therefore congratulate Governor McAuliffe. Let his act be a model for Governors everywhere in our nation; and for all of us who make and administer the laws and organizations that create our nation. Let us extend the right to vote to all citizens and see that they register to exercise a right more basic to what we are than anything else you can think of.

—- Mike Freedbrerg / Here and Sphere



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