SUBMITTED RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - September 20, 2005)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, today I am submitting a resolution to express the Senate's strong disapproval of recent efforts to disenfranchise Americans.
In the weeks since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, our country has been awakened to the plight of the most vulnerable Americans--the poor, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. And if we have learned anything from this tragedy, it is that the Government has too often ignored the needs of these citizens in crafting national policy. Whether it is homeland security or education or health care, these Americans have consistently been left behind.
Now, we are in danger of proceeding down another path that disregards the needs of our Nation's neediest--the right to vote. This is the most fundamental right protected by the Constitution and the right for which many Americans have fought and died.
The last two Presidential elections were tainted by allegations of fraud and abuse. The complaints ranged from long polling lines to faulty machines to confusing ballots. The rampant complaints have shaken people's confidence in our election system. And so it is all of our duty to work to restore and protect the integrity of the electoral process.
Unfortunately, in this new millennium, too many electoral reform efforts seem intent on limiting access to the ballot as opposed to expanding it. In the mid-20th century, the poll tax was the preferred means of disenfranchising large minority populations, specifically African Americans. Today, the poll tax is taking on a new form--a photo identification requirement for voters.
According to the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, such a requirement would ``impose an additional expense on the exercise of the franchise, a burden that would fall disproportionately on people who are poorer and urban.'' Nevertheless, a number of States, including Georgia, have recently passed laws mandating government-issued photo identification for voters at the polls.
In Georgia alone, at least 150,000 senior citizens do not have government-issued photo identification, which can cost up to $85. Nationwide, at least 12 percent of eligible drivers do not have a driver's license. And Georgia has made it difficult for rural and urban folks to obtain their voter photo identification. There are currently only 56 places in all 159 counties where such identification is available, with no places available in Atlanta. For people who already lack transportation, which may be why they do not have driver's licenses, it is far-fetched to think that these same people could easily get to another county to obtain a voter identification card.
Earlier today, the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform released its recommendations for improving the electoral process. While many of the Commission's recommendations are worthy of consideration, its report recommends the implementation of a national voter identification requirement, despite acknowledging that there is ``no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting.''
This past weekend, Afghanistan held its second successful national election, and we have seen successes in Iraq's elections as well. If these nascent democracies can commit themselves to bringing any and all citizens to the polls, surely we can do the same.
Many of us both here in Washington and around the country have been asking questions over the past three weeks about our Nation's priorities and our commitment to helping our country's most vulnerable citizens. But a major priority should be ensuring that these citizens can exercise the most fundamental right in a democracy--the right to vote.
The resolution I am submitting today, along with Senator DODD and joined by Senators REID, CORZINE, CLINTON, HARKIN, FEINGOLD, AKAKA, DORGAN, KENNEDY, KERRY, MIKULSKI, LAUTENBERG and others, expresses the Senate's strong disapproval of photo identification requirements for voting. The resolution also urges the Department of Justice to challenge any State law that limits a citizen's ability to vote based on discriminatory photo identification requirements and urges the rejection of any national photo identification requirements for voting.
I am honored that Representative JOHN LEWIS, a civil rights icon who put his life on the line to fight for the right to vote, will be introducing the same resolution in the House later this week.
I urge my colleagues to support this important resolution.