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Elijah C.
Democrat MD 7

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  • Cbc Hour: Voting Rights Act, Section 5

    by Representative Elijah E. Cummings

    Posted on 2013-02-25

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    CUMMINGS. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

    I also take this moment to thank the Congressional Black Caucus for making this happen. And I thank Representatives Horsford and Jeffries [[Page H617]] for leading this. It is quite encouraging--and I know that our chairman, Marcia Fudge, agrees with me--when we see our new Members come to the forefront and lead. That's why our constituents sent us here. I just want you to know that we are very, very, very proud of you, as we are of our other new Member, Mr. Payne, who just spoke. We are certainly glad that you are here and leading.

    We all know our Nation's disgraceful history in this area of voting rights. I've often said that if we did not have the Voting Rights Act, these past few years have taught us that we would have to invent it.

    For decades and decades, racist and exclusionary voting practices kept minorities from accessing the ballot box. I'm reminded of my great-great-grandfather, Mr. Scipio Rhame. In the South Carolina of 1868, he overcame tremendous hardships and life-threatening dangers just to register to vote, only a few years after he had come out of slavery. Sadly, this country has witnessed very slow progress toward equality in voting. The reality is that in the year 2013, we are still fighting for the right to vote for all Americans.

    In election after election, discriminatory voting laws and exclusionary practices still surface. This past election cycle, we saw a new wave of efforts to suppress the vote. We saw racially motivated efforts to cut back on early voting. We saw physical destruction of voter registration forms. Across the country, we saw eligible voters prevented from casting their ballots because of long lines, inaccurate voter records, and poorly trained poll workers.

    As the ranking member on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I launched an investigation last year into the actions of True the Vote, a Tea Party organization that claims to promote ``voter integrity'' efforts. In fact, True the Vote sought to make it harder for Americans to vote. They challenged the registration of thousands of legitimate voters across the country before Election Day, and they deployed volunteers across the country to challenge access to the polls for legitimate voters.

    Efforts by groups like True the Vote disproportionately affect minority communities, and they are just one small example of the practices that still seek to suppress the vote in our country.

    The Voting Rights Act is often cited as the most effective civil rights law in our history. Section 5 has been one of the most powerful tools in the act because it combats discriminatory attempts to marginalize voters before they can take root. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, he said this: There were those who said smaller and more gradual measures should be tried. But they had been tried. For years and years they had been tried, and tried, and tried, and they had failed, and failed, and failed. And the time for failure is gone.

    So, in closing, I hope the Supreme Court Justices remember these words as they consider this most recent challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

    Today, in the year 2013, section 5 remains as critical as ever to protecting the right to vote in the United States of America.

    Mr. HORSFORD. Thank you, Representative Cummings. I know under your leadership, as the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the issue of voting rights will continue to be a top priority in this Congress.

    Mr. CUMMINGS. You're absolutely right. Thank you.

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