Pelosi Urges Attorney General to Secure Voting Rights for All
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi today issued a statement calling on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to report immediately on the activities undertaken by the Justice Department to protect the right to vote in the recently concluded elections, especially of citizens affected by the recent hurricanes. In light of reports last month that Republicans may seek to exploit the mass displacement of voters due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Pelosi, leading Democrats, and several Representatives from areas affected by the hurricanes, had asked the Attorney General on October 27 for an immediate status report on the Justice Department's efforts, given the elections in several affected states yesterday, a report that still has not yet been provided.
"Yesterday, across the country, Americans proudly cast votes and performed one of their most critical civic responsibilities. Our democracy depends on protecting the right of every American citizen to vote - and to register to vote - in every election. As the Supreme Court has noted, No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the law, under which, as good citizens, we must live.'
"Special challenges, however, exist for the citizens of the states affected by the recent hurricanes. The Justice Department has a special responsibility and obligation to help people fulfill their right to participate in their government. I urge the Attorney General to work to secure voting rights for all, to prevent barriers, and to provide a report on the Justice Department's activities in the affected states without delay."
Excerpts from the House Democrats' letter dated October 27:
"We fear victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas may encounter politically engineered obstacles when exercising their right to the [voting] franchise this November, next year and beyond. This possibility compels the federal government to ensure that these jurisdictions and any jurisdiction with displaced voters comply fully with all statutes designed to facilitate the vote of every American and protect minority voting rights
"Given the elections in many of the affected states this November, we need an immediate status report by the Justice Department on its efforts to proactively protect the right to vote in those elections."
The full text of the letter follows:
October 27, 2005
The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Gonzales:
The October 24, 2005 issue of Newsweek magazine includes a disturbing story suggesting that political operatives may be exploiting the mass displacement of New Orleans voters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina for partisan political gain. This troubling story comes on the heels of reports of insensitive remarks made by elected officials shortly after the hurricane swept New Orleans suggesting that this tragedy could be viewed as a positive event. We also note that, immediately after the tragedy, the President's political advisor, Karl Rove, who has no experience in post-disaster planning, was appointed to play a major role in rebuilding efforts.
As you are no doubt aware, residents of New Orleans neighborhoods most affected by the storm are predominantly African-American. In addition, many Hispanic residents were dislocated. Thousands of these citizens have been temporarily relocated to other parishes and states, particularly Texas, for an indeterminate period while their homes and communities are rebuilt.
We fear these New Orleans residents, as well as victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas may encounter politically engineered obstacles when exercising their right to the franchise this November, next year and beyond. This possibility compels the federal government to ensure that these jurisdictions and any jurisdiction with displaced voters comply fully with all statutes designed to facilitate the vote of every American and protect minority voting rights, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
It is our expectation that the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division will be especially vigilant for the foreseeable future regarding the plans of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas to recover lost voter registration information, replace or repair damaged voting equipment, designate new polling locations, and provide accurate and up-to-date voter absentee information to people who have been forced to move to other jurisdictions but intend to return to their places of residence once their communities are restored. In addition, because a significant number of displaced voters are located in Texas, the Civil Rights Division should ensure that Texas does not impose barriers on those citizens' right to vote.
Moreover, we expect that the Civil Rights Division will take immediate steps to prevent any attempts by partisan operatives to purge the voting rolls. Recent experience attests that attempts to purge voting rolls is a persistent concern.
Given that each of these jurisdictions is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, we strongly advise the Voting Section to review with the utmost of care any changes these jurisdictions propose in the months ahead that purport to ease the work of election officials during this difficult time but risk imposing undue burdens on voters. Elections must never be administered for the convenience of election officials, even during a time of recovery from a major catastrophe, if it means voters' rights will be diminished.
The Justice Department should summarily reject any proposed change that would have this effect, taking into account not only the arguments of election officials but those of civil rights and voter advocacy groups as well. The Department will, as you know, be failing to execute the law if it concludes the recovery challenges facing these jurisdictions in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita justify lenient application of Federal voting statutes.
We would greatly appreciate a status report on the actions being taken by the Voting Section to ensure that a natural disaster does not lead to an electoral disaster this November and next year in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Given the elections in many of the affected states this November, we need an immediate status report by the Justice Department on its efforts to proactively protect the right to vote in those elections. We are particularly interested in how the Department will apply the Voting Rights Act's pre-clearance requirements in cases where local election infrastructure has, for all practical purposes, been destroyed and needs to be rebuilt from scratch.
We have an obligation to every American to ensure that our nation's election system is one that will inspire pride and confidence, even when a natural disaster strikes and causes unexpected disruption.
We appreciate your consideration of this important matter and look forward to your response.
House Democratic Leader
House Democratic Whip
House Democratic Caucus Chairman
House Democratic Caucus Vice-Chairman
Ranking Member, Judiciary Committee
Ranking Member, Homeland Security Committee
Ranking Member, House Administration
Melvin Watt Chair,
Congressional Black Caucus
Grace Napolitano Chair,
Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Senior Chief Deputy Democratic Whip
Member of Congress
Member of Congress
Sheila Jackson Lee
Member of Congress
Member of Congress
Member of Congress