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CBC Hour: Voter Identification Laws

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DAVIS of Illinois. I thank the gentlewoman from Ohio not only for yielding, but for convening this discussion this evening.

I was speaking to a group of young people a couple of days ago, and they wanted to know why did we think this whole question of voter suppression was such a big deal. They said, But doesn't everybody have the right to vote? And of course it was necessary to convey to them some of the experiences that people like Representative Lewis and others have had.

All of us recognize, from a historical perspective, the evolution of the development of our country. Of course when we started, there were only a few people who actually had the right to vote, and they were the individuals who made most of the decisions. Ultimately, we fought a war, and after the war we saw the expansion of opportunity; and yet there were millions of individuals who were denied the same opportunities that others had.

People often ask about Southern States. And you don't pick up on any State, but I remember reading the history of Mississippi, where in 1890 the State of Mississippi devised a system that effectively disenfranchised most African Americans or blacks who were there and adopted a system that other States picked up. But you've got to remember that at that time African Americans made up 58 percent of the population in the State of Mississippi. They elected delegates, and the delegates who were elected--134--consisted of 133 white men and one black, or one African American.

I am afraid--and I wish that it wasn't so--that there are cynical efforts to manipulate and control and prevent individuals from having the opportunity to exercise the most important franchise in a free and democratic society, and that is the right to help make decisions. And sometimes it's done in so many ways. There's an old saying that if you fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

There are places where the polling places just got changed. People have been accustomed to voting at the Johnson school, and all of a sudden they wake up and it's time to vote and they're now voting at the American Legion Hall. Well, they don't know where the American Legion Hall is; they just go to the Johnson school. And once they get there, they can't vote, then they decide that they'll go on to work or do whatever else it is that they're going to do, and they will miss voting that day.

Poll taxes sound kind of way out and farfetched. But I actually grew up in rural America. It is true that I live in Chicago, a magnificent city, probably the most magnificent city in the United States of America and many other places throughout the world.

But I grew up in rural Arkansas, and there was a $2 poll tax. My parents paid a $2 poll tax. Now, the average person who worked in an agrarian environment at that time, the wages were $4 a day. Four dollars a day. That's what people earned driving tractors. That's what they earned chopping cotton. That's what they earned baling hay.

And to take $2 out of $4 that you might earn working a whole day to go and get registered to vote? Well, that meant, for all practical purposes, that many of the people, not just African Americans, mind you, but many of the people who were low-income were not going to participate because they couldn't afford to pay $2 to register to vote.

And so I join with all of my colleagues who say that this issue is most important, that we must watch it, keep our eyes and hands on it. And we have to make sure that even in places like where I live, I can recall voter suppression during one Presidential election where the whole idea was simply not to vote. People were not going to vote for a different political party at the time. But if they didn't vote, that was the same as voting for the other guy.

So don't fool us. We kind of know what's happening.

I thank you for calling this Special Order.


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