A picture of Representative G. K. Butterfield
George B.
Democrat NC 1

About Rep. George
  • Democracy in Crisis

    by Representative G. K. Butterfield

    Posted on 2016-05-23

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    BUTTERFIELD. I thank the gentleman for yielding time this evening, and I thank him for his incredible work not just in the Congressional Black Caucus, but on behalf of the people that he represents in that great borough of Brooklyn, New York.

    And I thank the gentlewoman from Ohio (Mrs. Beatty) for all the work that she does. She is an incredible leader in this Congress, and we appreciate her so very much.

    I want to thank my colleagues for selecting the topic for discussion tonight. It is certainly an appropriate topic.

    There are so many of us who have been working on enforcement and extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They are too numerous to mention, but I will certainly single out Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Congressman Mark Veasey, Congressman John Conyers, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and so many others, who have just worked tirelessly to enforce the right to vote not just for African Americans, but for all Americans.

    {time} 2030 Mr. Speaker, on August 6, 1965--and I remember it so very well; it was a few days after I had graduated from high school--this Congress, this House of Representatives where we are seated tonight, and the Senate, which is just a few steps down the hall, together passed the Voting Rights Act. This act was signed by the President of the United States immediately, and it has had a profound impact on empowering African American communities all across the country to participate in the electoral process.

    Prior to the Voting Rights Act, it was a sad state of affairs, Mr. Jeffries, in North Carolina, in South Carolina, and in Alabama. It was a very sad state of affairs. In order to register to vote, one had to be able to read and to write. But not just that. They had to be able to satisfy a registrar. In all cases, it was a White registrar. African American citizens had to satisfy a registrar who, in many cases, discriminated that he or she was competent and able to be able to read and to write; and, in most instances, those would-be voters were denied the right to vote.

    In addition to that, laws were passed all across the South that disenfranchised minority groups. Redistricting schemes were drawn to disenfranchise, at-large elections and staggered terms and all of the rest. So there was a necessity--a necessity--Congressman, for the Voting Rights Act. It was just not a good idea; it was actually a necessity in order to enforce the right to vote. Congress enacted this tool, and it has been very effective.

    One of the most effective parts of the Voting Rights Act--there are many parts of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 is that part that gives minority communities the right to bring lawsuits, and that applies to every county in the United States. It is a permanent law. It is on the books permanently. It also eliminated the literacy tests.

    But there is another provision that kind of goes unnoticed from time to time, and it is called section 5. Section 5 is an oversight provision. It gives the Federal Government the right to preclear election changes before they go into effect to determine whether or not these changes would have a discriminatory result in their community.

    Section 5, Mr. Speaker, does not apply to every county in America. Section 5 only applies to certain States that had a long history of voter discrimination. In my State, for example, North Carolina, the whole State was not included under section 5. Only 40 counties were included for preclearance. So it has been a good law, and it has worked quite well. As the previous speaker said, it has been extended from time to time.

    But, Mr. Speaker, on June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that section 5--first of all, the Supreme Court ruled that section 5 is a proper exercise of legislative authority. But the Supreme Court surprised us. It determined that the formula used to determine which counties or which States should be subject to section 5 is outdated. The Court suggested that it needed fixing.

    So the Court called on us here in this Congress to fix it, and the Congressional Black Caucus has been fighting every day since that Court decision to try to put together a bipartisan agreement to fix the formula.

    No one in this Congress has worked harder than Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama. Her bill is now pending before this House, and we need to fix the formula, and we need to do it now.

    When you look at the 2013 discriminatory election law changes and the 2011 legislative and congressional redistricting, you must conclude-- anyone must conclude--that there is a concerted effort in many parts of the country to disenfranchise particular groups of voters from participating in the process.

    The absence of section 5 protection allows States--allows States, my State included--to pass discriminatory laws that disenfranchise African American voters and other groups. We have seen these laws enacted in State after State all across the country.

    On July 25, 2013, Mr. Jeffries, the North Carolina General Assembly passed--now, remember, the Supreme Court decision was June 25, 2013--30 days later. I don't know why they didn't do it 30 days earlier. Well, I do know why, and that is because there was a section 5. But after section 5 was suspended by the Supreme Court, 30 days later, the general assembly passed a sweeping voting law that discriminates not only against African Americans, but other minority groups. It discriminates against students and seniors.

    This law has also cut back on early voting. That is a big deal in our communities. It cut back on early voting by a week and barred same-day voter registration. The law went into effect upon passage, and there is no oversight in section 5 to protect us.

    This is disappointing. This law is regressive and absolutely disgusting. We have to let our State lawmakers know that our voices matter and that all citizens--all citizens--in this country should be able to participate in democracy through unfettered access to the ballot box.

    [[Page H2948]] So, in closing, the Congressional Black Caucus, of which I am honored to chair, vows to continue our fight to restore section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to stop the assault on access to the ballot box because every citizen deserves the right to vote.

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