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Public Statements

Voter Suppression

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

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

Mr. REYES. Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to try to lend a little bit of perspective on a strategy that we have seen evolving across our country, and that strategy I think threatens to undermine one of the most basic rights and principles that we have as United States citizens, and that is the right to vote.

Unfortunately, in many States--my State included, in Texas--there's a strategy to pass what is called a voter identification law, seeking to solve a problem that apparently across the country does not exist, and that is people voting that don't have that right, and trying to give the impression that this problem is prevalent throughout our country.

As we look back at our history, I think we should all be proud of the significant strides in increasing and strengthening the electoral process for all. Let's not forget that originally, under our Constitution, only white males over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. It took several amendments to our Constitution to fully extend this right to all minorities--women and young people ages 18 and older.

But it took us even longer, it appears, given the current situation, to live up to these ideals.

As a child growing up in El Paso on a farm, I can remember my father talking to us about that sacred right to participate and to vote.

Here is a poll tax that was charged for that right back in 1955, made out to my dad. Back then it was $1.75. Today, under the current strategy, that, the equivalent of this poll tax, could be as much as $20, $25, or $30 for an identification card.

So who does that hurt? Who does that impact the most? It's the elderly, it's the young people, and it's minorities.

And while some people may think, well, $1.75, that wasn't much to pay for the right to vote or, today, $20, $25, $30 isn't that much to exercise the privilege of voting, the fundamental issue here is that that is an inherent right guaranteed by our Constitution.

But even if we wanted to look at it from an economic standpoint, in 2012 dollars, here is what that $1.75 poll tax bought back in 1955. A gallon of milk was 88 cents; bread, 15 cents; chicken, 44 cents a pound; cheese, 45 cents, and so on so that for a man and his spouse, paying two poll taxes, it would be $3.50. This is what they would have spent that money on, and often did, rather than paying a poll tax of $1.75.

Today, the milk is $1.99; bread is $1.99; chicken, 99 cents a pound; cheese, $2.50, to the point to where, for paying one poll tax or one identification card, you could get these comparative amounts of groceries.

So the fundamental question we must ask ourselves when people talk about taking our country back, when people talk about the right to vote, these are the kinds of issues that impact us. These are the kinds of things that throughout our history many of us have fought to protect the rights of all citizens to participate in the electoral process, fundamentally guaranteed under our Constitution.

While I understand the intent of these laws, it is designed to supposedly prevent voter fraud and impersonation, the result affects individual participation in the inherent right to vote: requiring an ID, and considering the difficulties that citizens face in the process of acquiring those State-issued identification cards, which ultimately undermines the right to vote.

This is a serious issue. All of us who teach our children and our grandchildren that the most fundamental right to participate is protected by our Constitution have to remind them. I know I have talked to my children and have shown them this poll tax to remind them that freedom is not free, that people must understand their obligations as citizens.

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