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Public Statements

Voter Disenfranchisement

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Grijalva) for 5 minutes.

Mr. GRIJALVA. Mr. Speaker, this week marks the United States Constitution's 225th anniversary.

Our Constitution is a product of realistic compromise and intelligent consensus--a trait, I might add, sorely missing in this Chamber.

It lays out the central principles for a democratic government and the rights that citizens can expect to enjoy in that government. With the inclusion of six voting rights amendments, we have formed a more solid democracy.

The voting rights amendments fundamentally changed our system of government--outlawing poll taxes in Federal elections, giving ordinary Americans the right to elect their Senators, allowing the citizens of our Nation's Capital to vote for President, and guaranteeing that all Americans--regardless of race, religion, gender, or age--would enjoy these protections.

With these protections and these amendments, we affirmed the inherent values of our Constitution and our democracy.

The right to vote is still, to this day, the essential piece of our democracy.

Think about it. To deny an eligible voter the opportunity to vote is to undermine the very freedom that defines us as a Nation. The right to vote is essential to our democracy.

However, while the marches of student demonstrators and religious leaders once drove electoral reform in the United States, a new and dark movement is sweeping across the country. State lawmakers have been pushed by corporate interests and driven by a cynical point of view that says: We must deny other people the right to vote in order to continue to keep our power, and we must target those groups and individuals who may not agree with our point of view. With this cynical selective process, we keep power and we only concentrate on the people and extend the privileges to those that agree with our point of view.

New voter laws that are now being proposed and have passed in State legislatures make voter registration more difficult and cumbersome, cut the availability of early voting, and require voters to present current government-issued identifications as a prerequisite to casting a ballot. These efforts threaten the integrity of our democratic system and are very clearly targeted.

The new restrictions on voting would disproportionately burden African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, young voters, and Americans new to the political process.

Plain and simple, these restrictive voter laws threaten to disenfranchise young, poor, minority, and elderly voters who lack formal government-issued IDs despite the fact that it is more likely that an American will be struck and killed by lightning than he would impersonate another voter at the polls. We know exactly what these voter suppression laws mean.

In Texas, a Federal court recently found that the Texas voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act because it made it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote. The court stated that evidence conclusively shows that the cost of obtaining a qualified ID will fall more heavily on the poor, and a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos in Texas live in poverty.

In Pennsylvania, a July 5 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania do not have an ID, a new State law requirement for voting. That figure represents 9.2 percent of the State's voters that could be stopped from voting.

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that allegations of widespread voter fraud often proved greatly exaggerated. Moreover, these claims of voter fraud are frequently used to justify policies that do not solve the alleged wrongs but could well disenfranchise legitimate voters.

In some States, veterans' ID cards won't be sufficient as a photo ID to vote.

In the last 12 months in my State of Arizona, there has been an accelerated effort to suppress the vote. These new efforts represent a coordinated effort clearly designed to suppress the vote of those people who need to make sure that their government is paying attention to their needs.

People of color, women, young people literally risked, and some lost, their lives to gain the right to vote in this Nation of ours. Throughout its history, our country has tried to remove obstacles to voter participation, making the right to vote accessible to all eligible citizens.

We cannot turn our back on that fundamental right. Our legacy as a Nation demands better of us.

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