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CBC Hour: Voting Rights Act, Section 5

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PAYNE. Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my good friends and colleagues, Congressman Horsford of Nevada and Congressman Jeffries of New York, for anchoring tonight's CBC Special Order on the Voting Rights Act.

Fair and equal access to the ballot box is an important topic and one of these that has not been fully resolved. One hundred-fifty years ago, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but it took another 100 years to pass the Civil Rights Act, and eventually the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, our country has made progress in achieving justice and equality, but it is no secret this process has been painfully slow and noticeably deficient.

The Supreme Court will hear the case this week of Shelby v. Holder, which, if ruled in the favor of Shelby County, Alabama, would take us back 50 years and undo protections granted in the Voting Rights Act.

Some argue that we no longer need some of these protections provided in the Voting Rights Act. Some argue that we have achieved equality and justice for all. Some argue that section 5 is outdated because racism has been eviscerated. It is true we've come a long way and times have changed, but the unfortunate fact is that we have not changed enough.

Let's look at the facts. This past November, people across this Nation had to wait in line to vote for hours in places such as Miami, Tampa, Richmond, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Sometimes people waited 6, 7, or 8 hours to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

In the President's State of the Union Address, President Obama had a guest, a woman by the name of Desiline Victor, who waited 6 hours in Florida to vote. She was 102 years old. This is simply unacceptable. And unfortunately, long voting lines have become all too commonplace, particularly in urban and minority-rich areas.

So the big question I get asked from my constituents is: Why wouldn't we want everyone who is eligible to have the opportunity to vote? The answer is simple: When more Americans vote, they tend to vote for Democrats.

Regardless of someone's political persuasions, every eligible American should have the fair opportunity to cast their ballot--whether they be white, black, Asian, Latino, man, woman, gay, straight, Protestant, Catholic, atheist, or agnostic--because of the simple fact that we are all Americans and voting is a fundamental right in this country. This is about preserving democracy, and eliminating section 5 would undermine that right upon which this country was founded.

This past year, 37 State legislatures shamelessly passed laws that oftentimes targeted minorities and attempted to limit their access to the ballot. Strict photo ID laws, limitations on early voting, and stringent voter registration laws all had one purpose: It wasn't about reducing fraud; it was about preventing certain populations from voting.

It is astonishing--and it could not be more evident--that racism and the effort to suppress the right to vote is alive and well in this Nation. Luckily, section 5 rightly ensured that many of these laws never passed preclearance. So it cannot be plainer that now is the time to strengthen, not weaken, section 5, as it still serves as a very real and critical purpose in preserving our democracy and the right to vote for millions.

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