Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, countered GOP allegations of widespread voter fraud and denounced laws that disenfranchise minority, elderly, young, and low-income voters on the pretext that such fraud exists and is pervasive. At a Subcommittee hearing on voting rights enforcement, Nadler also chided his colleagues for failing to invite a DOJ representative to testify at a hearing ostensibly designed to provide oversight of that agency.
"The right to vote in a free and fair election, and the right to have our votes counted -- is at the heart of our system of government," said Nadler. "Indeed it is a fundamental part of who we are as Americans. Without free and fair access to the ballot for all Americans, our democracy will become a sham. Devices to suppress voting, like restricting voter registration, or selectively requiring photo IDs that are more commonly possessed by white voters, and not by minority, young, or elderly voters, betrays our right to a republican form of government as guaranteed by article 4, section 4 of the Constitution."
The following is the text of Nadler's opening statement, as prepared:
"We're back again with another oversight hearing airing allegations -- most of them demonstrably false -- against the Department of Justice without inviting the Department of Justice to testify.
"I have served in the House since 1992, and never before this Congress have I ever seen anything quite like what has become standard practice in this Committee. We hold hearings on legislation stripping the District of Columbia of its basic home rule rights without the courtesy of allowing the Delegate to testify. We have hearings on the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies in which witnesses allege misconduct without inviting the Department or the Administration to testify.
"I suppose I should be grateful that the minority is allowed a single witness. Evidently, some Republican Chairmen now believe even that is optional.
"This conduct is unbecoming of this Committee, and of this House. If we are going to turn these hearings into veritable kangaroo courts, then we should drop the pretense that we are actually engaged in objective oversight or legitimate fact finding.
"And I hope that no one will insult our intelligence by telling us that we could easily have invited the Administration as our sole witness.
"I say this because the issue before us today -- the right to vote in a free and fair election, and the right to have our votes counted -- is at the heart of our system of government. Indeed it is a fundamental part of who we are as Americans. Without free and fair access to the ballot for all Americans, our democracy will become a sham. Devices to suppress voting, like restricting voter registration, or selectively requiring photo IDs that are more commonly possessed by white voters, and not by minority, young, or elderly voters, betrays our right to a republican form of government (small R) as guaranteed by article 4, section 4 of the Constitution.
"We are even going to have a rehash of long discredited allegations about the New Black Panther Party case -- one in which no voter has ever complained of having been intimidated at the polls. As Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican member of the Civil Rights Commission put it succinctly:
This doesn't have to do with the Black Panthers; this has to do with [Republican] fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration . . . . My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the President.
"I think it is also important to keep in mind that wide-spread voter fraud is a talking point, not a reality. One Republican witness has submitted a list of alleged voter fraud cases stretching back to the 1990s. What is striking about this list is that many of the cases have nothing to do with voter ID, such as vote buying or stealing ballots, that some states have only one case, and that some states are not even on this list.
"It is especially interesting that the list makes no mention of voter suppression when, just recently, former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich's campaign manager was convicted and sentenced for using fraudulent robo calls to suppress the vote in the African-American community.
"I also see no mention of the recent unsuccessful effort by the Republican National Committee to get out from under a 1982 consent decree in which the RNC agreed to stop engaging in various voter suppression tactics aimed at minority communities. The Third Circuit's decision handed down just a few weeks ago makes for interesting reading. In the 1982 consent decree, the RNC agreed
to refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision to conduct, or the actual conduct of, such activities there and where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.
"I hope that we'll have the opportunity to discuss the issue of voter suppression and pretextual allegations of fraud as an excuse for voter suppression.
"The Supreme Court has noted the rarity of in-person voter fraud. In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the Court found that there was "no evidence of any [in-person] voter fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history.'
"There have, however, been instances of individuals who were duly qualified voters being turned away. Perhaps most notoriously, again in the state of Indiana, 12 nuns in their 80s and 90s denied the right to vote because they did not have driver's licenses and had outdated passports. Sister Julie McGuire, who turned the nuns away, said they hadn't been given provisional ballots because it would be difficult to get the nuns to a motor vehicle branch for non-driver IDs in time for the 10-day window allotted for provisional IDs. Sister McGuire told the AP, "[y]ou have to remember that some of these ladies don't walk well. They're in wheelchairs or on walkers or electric carts.'
"This Committee, in our investigation of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, and in another investigation by the IG and the Office of Professional Responsibility, uncovered evidence showing that some of the U.S. Attorneys had been fired at the direction of high-level Bush White House officials because of complaints that the U.S. Attorneys did not pursue meritless voter fraud prosecutions. In one case, in addition to White House personnel, evidence was uncovered that a Republican Senator and a Republican member of this House had applied political pressure to get prosecutions initiated before the elections.
"I hope, that as we receive testimony from Republican Party attorneys alleging pervasive voter fraud, we can remember these facts.
"Mr. Chairman, it wasn't too many years ago that I had the privilege of working on a bipartisan basis with a Republican Chairman of this Committee to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. It was a reflection of our belief that the right to vote must be inviolate, and that there are still too many challenges to making that a reality for all Americans, especially members of Minority communities. Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Conyers demonstrated what a genuine commitment to voting right can accomplish when we put our minds to it.
"I also realize that the vote to reauthorize the VRA was not unanimous, and that some members of this Committee did not vote for it. That is certainly a Member's prerogative, and I have to respect that.
"Nonetheless, I would hope that, at some point, we could return to that bipartisan consensus in favor of the right to vote. Without it, we cease to be the America all of us believe in. I don't believe we can ever allow that to happen."