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Public Statements

Still Fighting for the Right to Vote

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, there have been two struggles to make American democracy work. First was who would be eligible to vote. Originally, only those who were white, male, property owners over 21, voted, perhaps a quarter of the population.

More than three-quarters of a century later, having fought the civil war, African Americans were granted the franchise. It would be another two-thirds of a century before voting rights were extended to women.

Finally, in a battle that I was proud to be a part of as a college student, campaigning and testifying before Congress, we adopted the XXVI amendment, extending the voting rights to young people at age 18.

But there's always been another battle: Who amongst the theoretically eligible voters are actually able to cast their ballot and have it counted?

It's no secret the States in the Old South waged a brutal extra-legal war to prevent newly enfranchised African Americans from voting. The discrimination, intimidation and violence are well-chronicled; and it's why, almost a century after African Americans were given the legal right to vote, we still need the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to really give them the vote supposedly guaranteed under the Constitution.

Despite the Voting Rights Act, and two centuries of struggle, there's still
a battle today. Part of the Republican game plan for 2012 is to make voting difficult or impossible for some of the same groups who have long suffered discrimination, who are now seriously disadvantaged by new voter suppression laws that have been passed by Republicans in States like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Because voter fraud is a Federal offense, with serious legal consequences, even jail time, improperly cast ballots are virtually nonexistent in the United States. There are far more votes that are lost due to malfunctioning voting machines, mistakes and sleight-of-hand by local elected officials who are either inept or cheating than are all the cases that have been documented nationwide.

Texas has another effort to pass aggressive voter ID legislation, but they can find only five documented incidents of voter fraud in 13 million ballots cast in the last two elections.

In Pennsylvania, there have been fewer cases than you can count on your fingers, yet up to a million people may be denied the right to vote because of these legal changes.

Millions of poor, elderly, minority and student voters don't have passports or driver's licenses; some don't even have birth certificates. They may face the modern version of a poll tax, and that's unconscionable.

The media and courts are pushing back on some of the more outrageous behaviors, like Ohio's Secretary of State, John Husted, who was called out and forced to back down after he tried to limit early voting in counties with Democrats in the majority, while expanding them in Republican counties.

Come election day, the problems will still persist. There is a solution: pry partisan fingers off the controls of a varied election process. We shouldn't be treating the precious right to vote as a game where partisan advantage comes at the expense of our civil rights.

Oregon has been involved for 25 years with what is no longer an experiment but a display of a better way: vote by mail. Each registered voter in the Oregon is mailed a ballot to their residence 19 days before the election. They are given well over 400 hours to examine the ballot, make their decision on the issues and individuals, and return it by mail or in person.

Oregonians don't worry about people gaming voting machines, closing precincts early, having long lines for working people at the end of the day, or mysteriously running out of ballots at precincts that are likely to vote against you. In Oregon, there's no problem with illegal voting. Everybody has access to the ballot, and results are processed in a timely fashion.

It's shameful that, after more than two centuries of struggle for the right to vote, we're still playing games with people's opportunity to exercise that hard-won privilege upon which our democratic tradition rests.

I will be championing the Oregon solution of vote by mail to make the process simpler, more reliable, most important, fairer, while saving money in the process. I hope these blatant attempts at manipulation and discrimination backfire so that the next Congress and the administration are positioned to do something about it.

A country that prides itself as the oldest democracy deserves for the democratic process to work.

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