Hoyer: Voter Supression Undermines Our Democracy

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Transcript: 

“Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friends in the Congressional Black Caucus for organizing today's special order. But as my colleague, Mr. Engel, as my colleague on the Republican side, and as Dr. Christensen has pointed out, our hearts and thoughts go out to and with those people who by happenstance of going to a movie have lost their lives. Been injured badly. Have lost family members. Have had the confidence of going out and about in this country put at risk. How we lament that loss of life, that loss of confidence, that loss of a sense of safety in their community.

“Mr. Speaker, we need to address that issue. To instill confidence. To restore safety. To ensure that America continues to be a land in which people feel safe.

“Mr. Speaker, today I want to talk about an issue that is central to America. That is the right to vote. This is an issue that affects millions of Americans from every walk of life. But it will certainly have a disproportional effect on African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, seniors, and youth.

“In 2008 we saw a record turnout from minority communities and younger voters as more Americans were energized to take part in our democracy. That democracy is our greatest strength. And the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ has always been a vehicle for Americans to hold their government accountable, and ensure it is responsive to the challenges we face as a nation.

“Mr. Speaker, we ought to be building on that progress we made in 2008 by encouraging more Americans to register to vote and cast their ballots. Indeed, in my view the nation, states, counties, communities, municipalities, need to be reaching out to people to make sure they know how to vote and to facilitate their vote, not to put stumbling blocks in the way. It continues to be deeply disturbing to witness a campaign of raising barriers to voting and voter registration by Republican-controlled legislatures in states across this country.

“My dear friend and colleague, a hero in American history, John Lewis, is a veteran of the fight for voting rights in the 50's and 60's. He carries the scars, both physical and in his memory, of the great effort to secure not just the right to vote but the freedom to exercise that right. That's why he's helping to lead this effort in 2012 to prevent voter suppression and make certain our elections are open to all who are eligible to participate. He can attest that today's effort is a continuation of the work he began as a young man.

"Since the beginning of last year, 22 laws and [2] executive actions in 17 states have restricted our citizens' right to vote. Civil rights heroes like John Lewis refused to accept barriers to voting in the middle of the 20th century, and all of us, each and every one of us, are here today because we refuse to accept these new restrictions in the 21st century. That's why many of us introduced the Voter Empowerment Act in May.

“Our bill strengthens Americans' democracy by improving our voting system in three key areas, Mr. Speaker. Access, integrity, and accountability. It will re-authorize the Election Assistance Commission, create a national voter hotline for reporting problems, allow same-day and online registration, remove obstacles to voting for military personnel, and prohibit deceptive practices that discourage Americans from casting their votes.

“Each one of us in this House is opposed to voter fraud. Each one of us is opposed to any voter voting who is not eligible to vote. But very frankly, the good news in America is that is a very, very, very small problem. And, in fact, when proponents of restrictions are asked to cite examples they hard put to do so.

“Democrats, Mr. Speaker, are making the issue of voter access a major priority this year because we believe that all Americans deserve to participate in this year's election. To have their votes counted accurately. We will continue to monitor our voting system and call attention to those who seek to undermine it.

“Again I want to thank the Congressional Black Caucus for its work on this critical issue as well as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Conyers, who has been such a hero on voting rights throughout his Congressional career; the Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee, Mr. Brady; and the Assistant Democratic Leader, Mr. Clyburn.

“I'm proud that the fight for voter access has attracted a broad coalition of civil rights organizations as well as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian-Pacific American Caucus and that senior citizens organizations and, yes, representatives of young people, are very concerned about the fact that eligible voters are being discouraged and, in some cases, suppressed from exercising their precious American right to vote.

“Let us never forget that generations have held it to be a moral duty to preserve the most powerful guarantor of our liberty: the right of every American to vote. We continue to stand up for it today and hopefully each day as we proceed.

“Mr. Speaker, I mentioned a couple of times about what Democrats are doing. Let me refer now to an article that appeared in the Washington Post [on July 20] written by Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of Florida. He says, and I quote from his article: ‘As a result of insidious political maneuvers and a lack of respect for voters, we in Florida have been entangled in litigation. The courts and the Justice Department have been required to step in this summer to protect the integrity of the voting process against a sweeping voter purge that the Florida Department of State undertook under the guise of removing non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls. Among those caught up in this shameless purging and notified that he was not a U.S. citizen eligible to vote: a 91-year-old World War II veteran, Bill Internicola, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and has proudly exercised his right to vote for many years.’

“Governor Crist, as I said, the former Republican governor of Florida, concludes: ‘The right to choose our leaders is at the heart of what it means to be an American. Our history books are full of examples to the contrary. When we send independent observers to monitor for voter fraud in banana republics, we derive authority from our self-regard as the ideal. When we hear of corrupt voting practices in foreign countries, where the ideal of democracy is nothing more than lip service, we feel good about ourselves.’

“He then went on to say, Mr. Speaker: ‘It’s time to look right under our noses. It’s happening here at home. And it’s our responsibility to honestly assess the root of the problem — which requires doing so with as little partisan bias as we believe belongs in the administration of our elections.’

"He concluded with this statement: ‘We can’t be surprised every time it turns out that politics are involved in our politics. But neither can we be silent when our democracy is threatened in its name. There are lines that should not be crossed; meddling with voting rights is one of them. It is un-American and it is beneath us.’

"I thank my friends in the Congressional Black Caucus for their leadership on this issue, to make sure the most precious right that every American has, as our birthright, is the right to vote.  Let us not allow any steps to be taken by the federal government, by the state government, by county governments or by municipal or local governments from impeding the rights of citizens to speak out in the most powerful way they can, voting.”