WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer issued the following statement today marking the 39th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is tomorrow. Rep. Hoyer was the lead sponsor of both the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA):
“It is hard to imagine that it has only been 39 years since our voting system was fundamentally restructured by the Voting Rights Act to finally allow equal representation of all Americans at the voting booth. It is hard to believe that not such a long time ago, millions of American citizens could not exercise the fundamental right guaranteed them by the Constitution: the right to vote. Today, we pay tribute to the brave people who led the way to ensure that no American would be disenfranchised or excluded from the most vital process of our democracy.
“President Lyndon Johnson, along with many courageous members of the House and Senate, faced down ingrained prejudice and outright intimidation to pass the Voting Rights Act. The Act itself was spurred by the now-famous unprovoked attack on March 7, 1965, by state troopers on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, en route to the state capitol in Montgomery.
“This attack, the latest in a long and frequent pattern of abuses perpetrated by authorities to discourage voting by minorities, persuaded the President, members of Congress, and civil rights leaders to push past resistance to effective voting rights legislation. President Johnson decried the events in Alabama and called for a strong voting rights law. Hearings began soon thereafter on the bill that would become the Voting Rights Act.
“The VRA, which President Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965, temporarily suspended literacy tests, and provided for the appointment of federal examiners (with the power to register qualified citizens to vote) in certain jurisdictions. Most importantly, backed by the power of the United States Attorney General, the VRA instituted a nationwide prohibition of denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of a person’s race or color.
“The consequences of the Voting Rights Act cannot be understated. Without the passage of such a broad-reaching and federally enforced law, individuals would have been denied the right to vote with intimidation, and often violence, for perhaps years to come. Minorities could finally exercise their right to vote on issues that affected their families, education, taxes, and livelihoods.
“More recently, in 2002, I helped to sponsor the Help America Vote Act, which was the most sweeping electoral reform legislation put into law since the Voting Rights Act. HAVA built upon the VRA by developing a 21st century set of standards to improve the ease, accuracy and security of voting and registration throughout the United States.
“HAVA, which was endorsed by, among others, former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, authorized Congress to provide $3.86 billion to states to modernize obsolete voting systems that contributed to the 2000 election debacle. To date, Congress has appropriated $3 billion to help states modernize obsolete voting systems that contributed to the 2000 election debacle.
“Much has been done in the past 39 years to strengthen and extend the franchise to all Americans. Thanks to the landmark Voting Rights Act and subsequent legislation it inspired, all Americans can expect their constitutional right to vote will be protected and enforced. As the 2004 election fast approaches, all of us must be vigilant in ensuring that this fundamental right is exercised without any difficulty in every community in the United States. ”