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Barbara L.
Democrat CA 13

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  • Democracy in Crisis

    by Representative Barbara Lee

    Posted on 2016-05-23

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    LEE of california in the house of representatives Monday, May 23, 2016 Ms. LEE. Mr. Speaker, tonight I rise with my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to urge our Republican colleagues to stop their reckless assault on the right to vote in America.

    First, let me thank my colleagues, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, for organizing this important special order and for their dedicated leadership in ensuring equality and liberty for all.

    I'd also like to thank Chairman G. K. Butterfield for his mighty leadership of our caucus as we work to ensure all Americans have an equal voice at the ballot box.

    At the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, President Johnson told the American people: ``The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.'' And Dr. King, our drum major for peace and justice, agreed saying: ``Voting is the foundation stone for political action.'' I am proud to say that we have come a long way in the 50 years since the signing of the Voting Rights Act. In April, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld ``one person one vote'' with its 8-0 ruling, in Evenwel v. Abbott. The ruling affirmed that legislative districts must continue to be drawn based on total population, not just the total number of voters. This will ensure that the concerns of all constituents will be equally represented.

    However, we must confront the fact that our voting rights are once again under attack. There are many working to turn back the clock, so we must continue working to ensure that each man and woman has an equal voice at the ballot box.

    We cannot allow the victories of the Civil Rights Movement to be undone.

    In 2013, the Supreme Court opened the door to these voting rights attacks. In its Shelby v. Holder decision, the Court carelessly and callously gutted the milestone the Voting Rights Act.

    In the three years following this ruling, we've watched Republican state legislatures fall over themselves to erect new and undemocratic barriers to the ballot box.

    This year, 16 states instituted new restrictions for the first time Let me repeat--for the first time, during a presidential election year, 16 states instituted new voting restrictions. And the clearly partisan nature of these voting rights attacks is not lost on the American people.

    These new barriers range from unnecessary voter ID laws, to ending same-day voter registration and reducing or completing eliminating early voting.

    Since 2010, 21 states have implemented new restrictions.

    Mr. Speaker, this is a crisis; our democracy is in crisis.

    While states have put up barriers, Speaker Ryan, Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte and some Congressional Republicans have ignored the clear, bipartisan conscience to fix the Voting Rights Act and restore voting rights protections for all Americans.

    Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner has introduced the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 885), which I am proud to co-sponsor with 105 of my colleagues, including 14 Republican Members representing 11 different states.

    But let me be clear--simply fixing the Voting Rights Act is not enough.

    [[Page E800]] We need to empower voters and Congresswoman Sewell's bill--the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 2867)--would do just that.

    Now--we often talk about how states in the south like Alabama have laws threatening voting rights. But this is still an issue around the country, including in California.

    While California has implemented many policies that improve access to the ballot box, including vote-by-mail, automatic voter registration and expanded absentee voting--we are not perfect.

    Three California counties--Kings County, Monterey County and Yuba County--were covered by the section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before the Shelby decision--meaning they needed preclearance from the Justice Department before changing voting rules or jurisdiction.

    Mr. Speaker, we must restore the preclearance process to prevent voter discrimination and disenfranchisement before it happens--not after.

    It is clear--our democracy is in a crisis. There is an assault against voting rights and we must come together to stop it.

    My Democratic colleagues and the Congressional Black Caucus are serious about protecting voting rights and pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act. It is past time that all Republicans in Congress join our efforts to protect the foundation of our democracy: the right to vote.

    Our work is not over until the voice of EVERY American is equally heard.


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