Daniel Reilly, 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks today at a forum entitled "Excluded from Democracy: The Impact of Recent State Voting Law Changes" chaired by House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (MI-14). Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Thank you, Rep. Conyers, for holding this important hearing. With the federal election just under a year away, the Committee is right to look into possible voter suppression taking place. The right to vote is fundamental to our entire system of government and the ability of every American to have his or her voice heard in Washington, in their statehouses, and in their local communities. That right is under threat today. Nationwide, state legislatures have been erecting barriers that deter or inhibit eligible voters from casting ballots. They are making it harder to vote by mandating certain forms of photo identification, which many current voters do not have and are time-consuming and expensive to obtain.
"For college students, this means not being able to show a student ID. For the many African Americans and Latinos who do not have ID cards that meet these new requirements, it means having to navigate the bureaucracy of getting them and paying the fees.
"For many Asian Americans whose names are often spelled slightly differently on different forms of identification, these new rules present new challenges.
"We have also heard about efforts to make voter registration nearly impossible. One Florida high school teacher tried to register her voting-age students and now faces $1,000 in fines for not filing the forms within 48 hours – not even enough time for them to arrive by mail. She dedicates her career to teaching the value of democracy yet is blocked in her efforts to get her students to participate in it. As a result of rules such as this one, the League of Women Voters has stopped its registration efforts in Florida completely.
"At the same time, states are rolling back opportunities for early voting. For busy working families with children and for seniors who cannot wait in long lines, early voting is often the only opportunity to cast a ballot. In this economy, those who have to work two or more jobs just to get by often cannot afford to take a couple of hours off from work on Election Day.
"We are witnessing a concerted effort to place new obstacles in front of minorities, low-income families, and young people who seek to exercise their right to vote. The lawmakers pushing these new measures claim they are a protection against an epidemic of voter fraud. However, evidence for such widespread fraud does not exist. The evidence we do have points to a political agenda on the part of those who are crafting these new rules. The right to vote should and must not depend on the politics of the day but on eligibility.
"I am glad that the committee will be hearing from witnesses who can testify to the effect these rules are having and will have on the constitutional and moral right of our citizens to vote. Among those testifying today are individuals who have been hindered from casting their votes because of these rules. This problem is not abstract. There are real people, many of whom have proudly voted many times in the past, but who now have essentially had their right to vote taken away.
"Earlier this month, I joined with 195 other house democrats in a letter to all fifty secretaries of state urging them to protect access to the ballot. I look forward to working closely with you, Rep. Conyers, with the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, the Asian Pacific American Caucus, and voting rights groups to ensure everyone who is eligible can cast a vote and have that vote counted."