U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today reintroduced the Senate companion of the Voter Empowerment Act as Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5), Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC-6), Rep. John Conyers (MI-13), and Rep. Robert Brady (PA-1) reintroduced legislation authored by Civil Rights icon Rep. Lewis in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Voter Empowerment Act will help ensure equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, will modernize our voter registration system to help more Americans participate, and takes steps to eliminate deceptive practices and voter fraud that deter voters from casting their ballots.
As more and more stories of voting problems emerge from last year's general election, Democrats are continuing to press the issue of ensuring Americans' voting rights through Congressional action, especially at a time when some states have implemented or are planning to implement new barriers to voting for certain groups, including seniors, students, low-income Americans, and members of our Armed Services. The bill is being reintroduced on the anniversary of the 24th Amendment, which banned the discriminatory practice of the poll tax.
"Dr. Martin Luther King often spoke about the fierce urgency of now; now is the time to protect the voting rights battles that have already been won, and to press for new protections," said Senator Gillibrand. "Ensuring that every vote counts is a cornerstone of our democracy that should be embraced by both sides of the aisle. I am honored to work on this bill with a true American hero like Congressman Lewis and the other leaders on this bill to ensure that voting is accessible and every American's voice is heard."
Rep. John Lewis said, "The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. Too many people in this country had to give their lives to exercise a right already guaranteed them by the Constitution. Outlawing the poll tax 49 years ago, does not mean we were finished protecting democratic freedom. New challenges to equal access still arise today. To be a credible voice for equal justice abroad, we must be watchful here at home to alleviate every historic and current impediment to the democratic process."
"I am proud to join in reintroducing the Voter Empowerment Act," Democratic Whip Hoyer said. "Last year, this bill was introduced after several Republican-controlled state legislatures enacted restrictive new voting laws, which made registering to vote and casting ballots difficult or impossible for many. In November, we saw long lines at polling places, with many people waiting hours to vote. This legislation introduced today is needed to protect Americans seeking to exercise their right to vote. With just a few months before the next special election for a seat in Congress, House Republicans ought to waste no time in bringing this bill to the Floor and working with Democrats to pass it."
"The right to vote should be the birthright of every American, but in the past several years, more than a dozen states have passed laws making it more difficult for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote," said Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn. "We urgently need to update our federal laws to safeguard the sacred right of American citizens to vote. Working with Representatives John Lewis, Marcia Fudge, George Miller, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and others, we consolidated several bills that had been under discussion for some time. We convened a legislative summit last year with dozens of Members and representatives from scores of advocacy organizations. Working extensively with Ranking Members Robert Brady and John Conyers, we developed this comprehensive bill. The Voter Empowerment Act contains three main parts: improving access, protecting integrity and ensuring accountability. On this date in 1964, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, ending forever the Jim Crow era practice of poll taxes as a barrier to the free exercise of the right to vote. This legislation will end recently enacted creative devices that constitute a modern version of the poll tax. I urge the 113th Congress to pass this needed legislation this year."
Rep. Conyers stated, "There is no more important right in our society than the right to vote -- the foundation of all of our other rights enshrined in the Constitution. Unfortunately, efforts to scale back the right to vote continue to thrive in our country. Today we call on Congress to once again protect that precious right. Congress did not stand idly by in 1965 when we passed the Voting Rights Act and the many federal protections we passed thereafter. When equal access to the ballot box is impaired by any means, the Constitution obligates our most careful and deliberate attention. And, we, the 113th Congress, must not stand idly now by when American citizens are denied their constitutional right to vote."
Rep. Brady stated, "We're committed to strengthening our democracy and ensuring no eligible voter is ever denied the opportunity to cast a ballot. Disfranchisement, for any reason, is an affront to our process and cannot be tolerated."