Restoration Tuesdayby Representative Terri A. Sewell
Posted on 2015-12-15
in the house of representatives
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to acknowledge
Restoration Tuesday, and the need to restore federal voter protections
for vulnerable communities. Every Tuesday that Congress is in session
shall be known as Restoration Tuesday, and I invite each of you to
share constituent testimonials about modern-day barriers to voting.
I am a proud daughter of Selma, Alabama where 50 years ago the brave Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement dared to challenge an unjust system that prohibited people of color from voting in the South.
Unfortunately, Alabama has not yet fully learned the lessons of its painful past. We have witnessed a renewed assault on our sacred right to vote in the wake of Shelby County versus Holder. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision, Alabama implemented [[Page E1794]] one of the most restrictive photo ID laws in the nation. Under this pernicious voter ID law, only a handful of photo IDs can be used at polling places.
When the State of Alabama started requiring a photo ID to vote, officials claimed it would reduce voter fraud. The reality is that voter fraud is rare--but the end results are that more than 250,000 Alabamians without a photo ID have been disenfranchised. Many of the disenfranchised are African-Americans, low-income individuals, senior citizens, and the disabled.
This past October, Alabama lawmakers decided to make this bad law even worse by reducing services at 34 DMVs across the state. Driver's licenses are the most popular form of ID used at the polls--and 8 out of the 10 counties in Alabama that are impacted have the highest percentage of black registered voters in the state. How is this not discriminatory? I fully support the federal lawsuit filed by the Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Alabama NAACP, challenging the photo ID law in our state. I have repeatedly argued that Alabama's photo ID law is a renewed assault on voting rights.
I also applaud the U.S. Department of Transportation's decision to investigate the reduction of services at the 34 DMVs in question for a possible violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Alabama cannot balance its budget on the backs of those who can least afford it, nor infringe upon the civil rights of minorities by limiting access to the most popular form of identification used to vote.
Voting is at the heart of our democracy. It's our most fundamental right--and duty--as Americans. I am a proud Alabamian, so it disappointments me that for every two steps Alabama takes forward, we take one step back.
Voting should be made easier--not harder--so that no voices are excluded and that every citizen can cast their vote without any unnecessary or unwarranted barriers.
Alabama recently reached a settlement with the Department of Justice to settle claims that the state did not fully comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. An investigation by the Department of Justice found that Alabama had largely failed to provide opportunities for Alabamians to register to vote when they applied for or renewed a driver's license.
Mr. Speaker, we have witnessed a number of attempts--not just in Alabama--but across the country to restrict the vote. I stand before you today to urge Congress to restore the vote. Representatives Linda Sanchez, Judy Chu and I introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act in June to stop the renewed assault on voting rights, and to restore preclearance for states like Alabama where new barriers to voting threaten to silence the most vulnerable voices in our electorate.
We cannot take for granted the battles endured by those who came before us, nor can we neglect our own responsibilities to ensure liberty and justice. The struggle continues, and each of us must do our part to further the cause of human and civil rights for all Americans.
We must restore the voices of the excluded--Congress must act today to restore the vote.