NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Gov. Ralph Northam ceremonially signed the Voting Rights Act of Virginia into law during a ceremony on Monday afternoon at Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.
The law aims to prevent discrimination at the ballot box, cracks down on voter intimidation, allows the attorney general to sue if there's voter suppression and establishes a fund to help educate voters.
"We are changing the tide here in Virginia," said Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News), who helped write the bill.
The bill is modeled after the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the U.S. Supreme Court has mostly struck down.
While she was speaking during the ceremony, Price was heckled by a man saying the bill wasn't necessary.
"It's really interesting that we would have a protester when we're trying to protect the right to vote, but we know that we're doing the right thing," she responded.
Gov. Northam held the ceremony just days before early voting begins in Virginia, which is on Friday.
"We had some folks who were vocal," Northam said. "If they want to express their views, the best way, the strongest way to do it and why people have fought for the right to vote, is to go to the polls on Election Day."
Virginia is the first state in the south to pass a law like this. Advocates say it's a decade in the making.
"I didn't think I would get this emotional," said Tram Nguyen, the co-executive director of New Virginia Majority.
In recent years, Virginia has expanded access to the ballot box, including no-excuse early absentee voting and ballot drop boxes. Meanwhile, other states have done the reverse and limited things like drop boxes.
Northam says Virginia has free and fair elections.
"For those that say there was fraud in our voting, it's just the big lie and that needs to stop," he said. "In the meantime, we need to encourage people to get out there and vote."