Democracy in Crisisby Representative Joyce Beatty
Posted on 2016-05-23
BEATTY. Mr. Speaker, tonight I rise this evening proud to stand
with my coanchor, my classmate, the gentleman from the Eighth
Congressional District of New York (Mr. Jeffries). I say to the
gentleman that I look forward to tonight's Special Order hour.
Mr. Speaker, Congressman Jeffries and I, along with our colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus, will have scholarly debate on how our democracy is in crises because of the assault on the right to vote in America.
As we just heard from Mr. Jeffries and we will hear from others, voting is the voice of the people. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed with bipartisan support, established strong Federal protections for the freedom to vote, banning or limiting many of the discriminatory election policies and practices of the Jim Crow South.
Combined with subsequent legislation such as the National Voter Registration Act, which requires State agencies to provide opportunities for voter registration, the Voting Rights Act has helped our Nation make significant progress in boosting voting for African Americans and other historically marginalized groups.
But we find ourselves, Mr. Speaker, today facing our first Presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act.
As Mr. Jeffries referenced in Shelby, the Supreme Court decision reversed over 50 years of progress made to expand access to the voting booth and opened a pathway to new voting laws that discriminate against African American voters.
As a result of Shelby, new voting restrictions have been put in place in 22 States, 18 of them, Mr. Speaker, Republican-led since 2010, making it harder for millions of Americans to exercise their right to vote.
The way States have been able to reduce the voting power of minority communities and put in place new voting restrictions in an effort to make it harder for millions of Americans to vote is appalling.
Mr. Speaker, our democracy is in crisis. Our right to vote is under assault.
Mr. Speaker, why would we want to make it harder for Americans to vote? I believe we should be making it easier for Americans to have access to the ballot box. But, apparently, some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not agree.
We need to put forth a vote on the Voting Rights Act now. New laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks, to registration restriction.
Among these 16 States with new voting restrictions is my home State of Ohio. In Ohio, in 2014, lawmakers cut 6 days of early voting and eliminated the golden week, during which voters could register and cast a ballot all in one trip, Mr. Speaker.
Of course, Ohio is not alone in its efforts to make it harder for Americans to vote. Mr. Speaker, the freedom to vote is one of America's most constitutionally guaranteed rights, and it should be easily accessible to those who want to exercise it.
That is why I am honored this Congress to serve as the deputy vice chair of the newly created Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, a caucus dedicated to protecting our democracy by ensuring the fundamental right to vote is safeguarded for all Americans.
However, after a longstanding tradition of bipartisanship on voting protections, House Republicans now refuse to bring either bill to the floor for a vote.
This is unthinkable, Mr. Speaker. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been reauthorized with bipartisan support five times. Congress has a duty to ensure elections are free and transparent so that all eligible voters feel comfortable and welcome.
I would echo President Obama's February 13, 2013, statement on the Voting Rights Act, and let me quote: ``We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected . . . That includes one of the most fundamental right of a democracy: the right to vote. When any American, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right . . . we are betraying our ideals.'' There are 168 days until the Presidential election, and our democracy [[Page H2947]] still has far too many missing voices, particularly among those who are already at a disadvantage due to deeply rooted racial and class barriers in our society.
We must ensure that voter suppression is not the new normal. In order to have a truly vibrant democracy, the United States must take steps to ensure inclusive voting by reducing barriers to voting.
Efforts to suppress voting turnout undermine democracy, and those efforts, Mr. Speaker, are on the wrong side of history.
As I close, Mr. Speaker, the time is now. I am calling on all people, including our community and national leaders, to join me in working to eliminate voter suppression and to restore what so many people fought for, marched for, died for. Mr. Speaker, that is the Voting Rights Act.
Human rights organizations like the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have been at the forefront of these issues along with my colleagues, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, encouraging and training poll workers and poll protectors.
It is up to all of us, Mr. Speaker, to protect the most at risk among us and to expand opportunity for all.