Daniel Reilly, 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks today at press conference to unveil the Voter Empowerment Act, comprehensive voting rights legislation. He was joined by Democratic Assistant Leader James Clyburn (SC-6), Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), Rep. John Conyers (MI-14), Rep. Robert Brady (PA-1), Rep. Charles Gonzalez (TX-20), and Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32). Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"I want to begin by thanking my friend, Rep. John Lewis, for his inspirational leadership on the issue of voting rights throughout his career – indeed throughout his life. We’re proud to have John with us leading this effort today.
"We are now six months from a pivotal election, the outcome of which will have a profound impact on the direction our country takes in the years ahead. Every single American eligible to vote should be able to participate in choosing that direction. Yet, in the 2008 election, around 3 million Americans tried to vote but were turned away due to voter registration problems. That is simply unacceptable, and the problem is getting worse.
"Over the past year, state legislatures across the nation have been imposing new restrictions on who can vote, who can conduct registration drives, and when voters can register and cast their ballots. Instead of making it easier for Americans to have their voices heard in government, these new rules are making it more difficult. Since the start of 2011, 22 laws and two executive actions in 17 states have restricted voting rights.
"America’s story is filled with chapter after chapter of struggle to extend the right to vote – to African Americans, to women, to people old enough to serve in uniform. That was the motivation behind the bipartisan Help America Vote Act of 2002, which I joined in introducing after the disputed election of 2000 and which was passed overwhelmingly in both houses and signed into law by President Bush. And it remains our motivation today, as we stand here to announce the introduction of the next important piece of voting rights legislation: the Voter Empowerment Act of 2012.
"This bill will strengthen our democracy by improving our voting system in three key areas: access, integrity, and accountability. In addition to reauthorizing the election assistance commission, it creates a national voter hotline for reporting problems, prohibits deceptive practices, allows same-day registration, and removes obstacles to voting for military personnel, Americans with disabilities, and young people.
"This bill is a major priority for Democrats this year, because we want to make sure that all Americans have not only the right to vote but the chance to do so – and to have their votes counted accurately. We will continue to draw attention to efforts to keep eligible voters from the polls, and we will continue to work to make our voting system the fairest, most secure, and most inclusive in the world. This legislation will move us a long way toward that goal.
"I want to thank Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers and House Administration Ranking Member Robert Brady for drafting this bill. They did so in consultation with a broad coalition of civil rights groups, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
"Throughout our history, the right to vote has been the most important guarantor of liberty and equality, and we have a moral duty to preserve it."