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CBC Hour: Voting Rights Act, Section 5

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HORSFORD. Thank you, Representative Hoyer. As our whip, you have provided a strong and articulate voice on these and other issues, and we look forward to continuing to work with you as we move our country forward and protect the most fundamental of all rights--the right to vote.

Mr. Speaker, at this time, I now yield to my co-anchor, my colleague as a freshman member in this 113th Congress. I am pleased to be working with him as one of the co-anchors for the Congressional Black Caucus and bringing these important issues to all of our constituents throughout this great country, the distinguished Member from New York, Representative Hakeem Jeffries.


Mr. HORSFORD. Mr. Speaker, as the Congressional Black Caucus has discussed this evening, voting rights are an issue that all Americans are entitled to, and we should be helping more voters to participate in our democracy, not creating laws that prevent or discourage anyone from voting.

As my colleague just explained, the coanchor from New York (Mr. Jeffries), we have made tremendous progress in recent history in securing the right to vote for many minority communities. A fully free and democratic society is always a work in progress, and with each election we are reminded that we cannot rest. We must always come to the defense of voting rights, and we cannot be caught off guard or pretend that because time has passed that we do not need to continue to fight to safeguard our rights. Now, no successful social justice movement has secured freedom absent vigilance, and that's why we are here tonight--to defend a pillar of justice and democracy.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was approved by Congress to protect fundamental voting rights and to protect minority groups from disenfranchisement. After a series of violent attacks on civil rights leaders who were registering African Americans to vote, former President Lyndon B. Johnson sent draft legislation to Congress to protect voting rights, and it was signed into law soon thereafter.

Since then, the Voting Rights Act has been one of the Nation's most effective civil rights laws and tools to combat discrimination and voting. Over time, the tactics used to stop people from voting have become more sophisticated. Unfair voter ID laws, barriers to voter registration, and narrowed early voting opportunities were all used in an attempt to suppress the vote in 2012. Overall, 2,400 changes in voting laws were stopped because of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, as my colleague Mr. Jeffries just outlined.

In January, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said:

The Nation has been facing some of the ``greatest attacks on voting rights since segregation'' and that the potential to repeal section 5 is the biggest threat yet.

Whether it's attempts to restrict early voting in Ohio or in Florida or whether it's throwing up billboards in minority communities that read ``voter fraud is a felony,'' we know that our work is not done. Intimidation is still a tactic employed by some seeking to scare voters from the polls. Until that threat is extinct, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act still has a very important role to play in making full democratic enfranchisement a reality in our society. We secured the integrity of our electorate in 2012, and it's in part because of the Voting Rights Act.

This is not a partisan issue. There is bipartisan consensus on that point. In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle. In fact, this body, the House of Representatives, has voted four times--with strong bipartisan support every time--to reauthorize section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Every reauthorization has been signed into law by a Republican President. The most recent reauthorization vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.

As part of the last reauthorization, Congress released over 15,000 pages of committee reports that demonstrated large-scale evidence of voting discrimination. Not only did these findings lead to a bipartisan vote to reauthorize the legislation, but Congress also cited the invaluable role of section 5 in thwarting racial injustice. According to the committee report, without the continuation of the Voting Rights Act's protections, the evidence is clear that ``racial and language minority citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted.''

In other words, Mr. Speaker, the Voting Rights Act is important for many different communities.

The writing is on the wall. Our work is not done. Section 5 must be upheld. And because of that, we stand in strong support of the Voting Rights Act here tonight.

I'd like to now bring my colleague, Mr. Jeffries, up so we can highlight some of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, both from a historical perspective but most importantly how it still applies today.


Mr. HORSFORD. Thank you, Representative Jeffries. As you just indicated, Wednesday's hearing before the Supreme Court is to hear arguments as they pertain to whether to preserve section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That is why the Congressional Black Caucus has come to the floor this evening, to bring attention to this very important provision of current law and to ensure that, as the legislative branch, we have the ability to preserve and to strengthen the Voting Rights Act as necessary.

We want to continue to push forward. There are those who have come before who have fought, bled, and died for our right to vote. We want to continue to fight and preserve everyone's right to vote.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I yield back the balance of my time.


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