Mariel Saez, 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks today at a luncheon during the National Association of Secretaries of State 2014 Conference. In his remarks, he discussed the need to protect voting rights and strengthen voting systems to ensure fair and transparent elections. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I’m pleased to join in welcoming you to Maryland for this year’s summer conference.
“Let me begin by thanking all of you for the work you do, which is so important to your states.
“Secretaries of State play a crucial role in making sure that our democracy lives up to its promise. By working closely with your state legislatures, governors, and county and local election officials, you ensure that the ‘nuts and bolts’ of our elections - legal guidance, voting machines, poll workers, and poll worker training – are properly functioning on election day and that they meet voters’ expectations.
“There is so much that voters take for granted on election day that would not be in place if not for your hard work and often-unheralded efforts.
“As we head into this new election season, the role most of you will play as overseers of voting systems will be crucial.
“Our nation relies on free, fair, and transparent elections to maintain a strong democracy and the legitimacy of our institutions of representative government. You are the guardians of that process.
“In the disputed 2000 election in Florida, the American people were starkly reminded of how important that process is and how much work it takes. In the aftermath of that election, I sponsored the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which established the Election Assistance Commission and provided support to your states to help modernize voting systems and adopt best practices.
“I’m proud of that effort and what we were able to achieve – and I want to thank your Executive Director, Leslie Reynolds, for her help when we passed HAVA. Leslie will remember that HAVA was a bipartisan, bicameral accomplishment that brought together election officials from the federal, state, county, and local levels; civil rights advocates; and technical experts.
“It truly was an example of how the legislative process can and ought to respond when our nation is confronted with a difficult challenge.
“Your organization ought to be very proud of the important, positive role it had in enacting HAVA and meeting the challenges the 2000 election highlighted.
“But today our voting system faces a different and far more dangerous challenge.
“While voters no longer have to worry that their votes, when cast, will be counted – many are now facing the real threat that they will not be allowed to enter the voting booth.
“Requirements for specific forms of voter ID, which many Americans do not have or cannot afford in time and fees, effectively disenfranchise those least likely to possess them – African Americans, Latinos, seniors, and students.
“At the same time, we are seeing new restrictions on voter registration and the elimination of early voting days.
“These new barriers do nothing to make our elections more secure. On the contrary, they undermine our elections’ legitimacy.
“For that reason, and because every voice in our democracy deserves to be heard, I joined last January with Rep. John Lewis and others to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act, which would reauthorize the election assistance commission and prevent the kind of voter suppression too many Americans are encountering as they try to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
“Last year, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder was a terrible blow to our longstanding tradition of making the ballot box more accessible to Americans, not less. By invalidating Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the court issued a challenge to Congress to provide a new framework for preclearance.
“In a sign that this issue transcends partisan politics, Democrats and Republicans came together earlier this year, led by Reps. John Conyers and Jim Sensenbrenner, to answer that challenge with a new preclearance formula – one that will restore the protections that the Voting Rights Act set in place. I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill, called the Voting Rights Amendment Act.
“Congress has a responsibility to take action on both of these important and timely pieces of legislation – in advance of the next election.
“All of you deserve a Congress that supports the work you do to ensure that our elections take place in a manner that is secure, fair, and accurate.
“The report issued by the President’s Commission on Election Administration in January found that, nearly universally, American voters’ number one priority is – and I quote: ‘modern, efficient, and responsive administrative performance in the conduct of elections.’
“By partnering across the aisle, as Reps. Conyers, Sensenbrenner, and I have done with the Voting Rights Amendment Act, and by working together closely with you and other state and local officials, congress can achieve that goal.
“I will continue to work with Democratic Members and with our colleagues on the Republican side to push for Congress to strengthen our voting system and ensure that all Americans who are eligible to vote can cast a ballot and have it counted accurately.
“I thank you, again, for all the work you do toward that end, and I look forward to working with you as we continue to make our system of elections more reflective of America’s enduring values of democracy and equality.”