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Public Statements

Voter Suppression

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of our vibrant, participatory democracy and to speak out against voter suppression. I thank my friend and colleague from Ohio, Congresswoman MARCIA FUDGE, for organizing this Special Order to raise the warning flag on efforts now under way in many States to erode hard fought voter protections.

In the past generation, public officials of both parties have sought to make it easier for Americans to participate in the political process. With the expansion of Early Voting, absentee balloting, and Election Day Registration, the fundamental right to vote has become more accessible for millions of Americans--all while the integrity and administration of our electoral system has been improved.

That progress and our American tradition of ``expanding the franchise'' are now under attack. In state houses across the country, legislatures have enacted unnecessary and politically-motivated restrictions on the right to vote.

In my home State of Florida, Governor Rick Scott signed a law that imposes such high burdens on voter registration drives that the non-partisan League of Women Voters has been forced to end its registration efforts. The same law arbitrarily makes it more difficult for voters who moved, to change their addresses at the polls, a process that has proven effective in Florida for decades.

As part of a disturbing national trend, the Florida law also cuts the required hours for Early Voting by nearly half, reducing the Early Vote period from 14 days down to just 8 days. I know firsthand the value of early voting for Florida's large senior population, many of whom have difficulty in getting to the polls. Reducing the number of early voting days will have a major impact on their ability to participate in our democratic process.

Even though Early Voting allows busy working voters more opportunities to reach the polls, legislatures in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Georgia have also passed significant cuts to their Early Voting time periods.

An Early Vote reduction was also proposed in North Carolina, but--for now--has stalled because it would actually cost taxpayers more dollars to restrict Early Voting than to maintain the current system.

Strict photo identification laws, in which voters would have to show a specific type of government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot at the polls, were proposed in 36 States. Wisconsin, Texas, Kansas and other States passed these unnecessary laws even though 11 percent of eligible American voters--approximately 23 million people nationwide--lack the photo ID these laws demand. Moreover, the Brennan Center for Justice has demonstrated that the elderly, racial minorities, and young voters all disproportionately lack access to government-issued photo ID and will therefore face the highest burdens under newly enacted photo ID laws.

In Maine, the governor signed a bill ending Election Day Registration even though 60,000 Mainers registered to vote in 2008 alone. In New Hampshire, the legislature actually pushed a bill that would redefine "domicile'' in order to prevent students from voting.

Is this the kind of message to send to young people who want to participate in our democracy?

Restrictions on the right to vote burden all Americans, but they especially affect communities of color and other citizens who have historically experienced discrimination at the ballot box.

The nonpartisan group Project Vote has found that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than white voters to register through a voter registration drive, meaning that fewer minority Americans will have the chance to register and vote in Florida because of these biased actions.

Despite these inequities, State legislatures around the country have never justified any rationale for these unnecessary changes except for the broadly debunked myth of voter fraud. These efforts to prevent eligible Americans from voting will do nothing to improve our electoral system, but they will reverse years of bipartisan progress in making the right to vote more accessible for every qualified citizen.

In the face of this assault on the right to vote, I am heartened by the commitment of my colleagues and our partners in the civil rights community to preserve the right to vote, knock down unnecessary barriers to the franchise, and continue to work for the inclusions of all eligible Americans in our political process.


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