(House of Representatives - February 14, 2013)

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[Pages H509-H512]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from 
Texas (Ms. Jackson Lee) for 5 minutes.
  Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I've always had such great respect for 
this distinguished body, the holder and interpreter of democracy, the 
institution that proudly protects the Constitution that was written by 
those who saw in this land this bright and shining sun from sea to 
shining sea, enormous opportunity for freedom.
  So many people came to this Nation, and they came in many different 
ways. We don't carry the way we came into the future, as much as the 
fact that we are grateful of the opportunity that this Nation has given 
  The Nation has been able to turn the tide on embracing democracy in 
its fullest because of the Constitution and the laws, because we adhere 
to the three branches of government. So although my ancestors came to 
this Nation in bondage that lasted for hundreds of years, slavery, that 
has its remnants continuously as we move throughout society, there are 
now laws that can ensure, no matter how you came to this country, no 
matter what language you spoke, you are, in fact, deserving of the 
protection of the Constitution.
  And so out of that protection came the 14th and 15th Amendments. 
Those amendments provided that no State shall make or enforce any law 
which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the 
United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty 
or property without due process of law, and not deny any person in the 
jurisdiction equal protection.

[[Page H510]]

  The 15th Amendment provides that the right of citizens to vote shall 
not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account 
of its race, color, or previous servitude.
  And, finally, each amendment allows this Congress to enforce laws; 
and that was the basis of the authority of the President that came from 
Texas, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who joined with a young, 
brilliant minister of the gospel, a man who ultimately sacrificed his 
life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to engage in debates and discussion 
that resulted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights 
  And here we are today with the opportunity for people from all walks 
of life and all communities to be able to vote and to have, as of 
September 28, 2011, the upholding of the pre-clearance provision, a 
very special provision of the Voting Rights Act by a district court, 
Federal court in the District of Columbia.
  Shelby v. The United States now is before the Supreme Court. And my 
argument, Mr. Speaker, is that this is no time to eliminate pre-
clearance. I'm reminded of a letter that I wrote to the U.S. Attorney's 
Office, Attorney General Eric Holder, just in my city alone, the city 
of Houston, to report 15 voter abuse cases.
  Without the pre-clearance, where would we be?
  Or the proposal to eliminate the North Forest Independent School 
District Board of Trustees over a school district that has worked hard 
to survive which will be subjected to the pre-clearance to determine 
whether not only the students will be denied their rights to learn in a 
school district they love and is fighting for their education, but that 
elected persons will be denied the right to serve and others denied the 
right to vote for them.
  The Voting Rights Act protects all voters. It gives them all the 
right to vote--one vote, one person. And Shelby County has raised issue 
that they should not be subjected to pre-clearance, that they are 
beyond that. The district court, the Federal court decided, in 
Washington, D.C., that they were wrong, that pre-clearance is 
  And we know that well because when we had the privilege of 
reauthorizing section 5 in 2006, building on the leadership of my 
predecessor, the Honorable Barbara Jordan, who came to the United 
States Congress only because, along with Andrew Young, the first who 
came out of the Deep South since Reconstruction, only because America 
had seen fit to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, because I can 
assure you, with personal stories from the Honorable Barbara Jordan 
told to us in her lifetime, that she ran and ran and ran and ran and 
could not be elected in Houston, Texas.
  The Barbara Jordan that was admired by many could not be elected 
until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act because there were 
abuses and prohibitions and intimidation of African Americans being 
able to vote.
  And so today I believe it is extremely important that, as the Supreme 
Court takes this case up on February 27, that we stand in the midst of 
the 15,000 sheets of documentation, when I had the privilege of joining 
with my Judiciary Committee colleagues to reauthorize the Voting Rights 
Act and, specifically, section 5, and writing amendments to ensure its 
sanctity and security for a period of years, that we did not do it 
frivolously. We did it with authority, Mr. Speaker, and I am asking 
that America stand against the elimination of the Voting Rights Act. 
Join us on February 27.
  I rise today to speak about the need to protect democracy, to protect 
the voice of the American people, and to ensure the right to vote 
continues to be treated as a right under the Constitution rather than 
being treated as though it is privilege.
  If you are a Constitutional Scholar this is an exciting time because 
the United States Supreme Court has a very active docket this term, 
deciding on matters which have great import to every American.
  And pursuant to that, in less than two weeks the Supreme Court will 
hear the case of Shelby County Alabama v. Holder. The issue in this 
case is whether Congress' decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of 
the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of 
Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the 
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth 
Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.
  The challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 in this case was 
brought by Shelby County, Ala., which is a majority white suburb of 
  In rejecting the County's arguments, Judge Bates agreed with an 
earlier unanimous decision, by a three-judge panel of the D.C. District 
Court, which likewise upheld the constitutionality of Section 5, in a 
case brought by a local Texas utility district, which is my home state.
  That earlier decision, however, was vacated in 2009 when the Supreme 
Court decided that the utility district could pursue a statutory 
``bailout'' from Section 5 coverage.
  Unlike the Texas utility district, Shelby County freely admitted that 
it has a recent history of voting discrimination that disqualified it 
from ``bailing out.''
  I am joined by my colleagues here today to call on all Americans to 
reject and denounce tactics and measures that have absolutely no place 
in our democracy. I call on African-Americans, Hispanic and Latino 
Americans, as well as Asian-American voters to band together to fight 
for their right to vote and to work together to understand their voting 
rights which are granted to citizens of our nation by our laws and our 
  I call on these citizens to stand against harassment and 
intimidation, to vote in the face of such adversity. The most effective 
way to curb tactics of intimidation and harassment is to vote. Is to 
stand together to fight against any measures that would have the effect 
of preventing every eligible citizen from being able to vote. Voting 
ensures active participation in democracy.
  As a Member of this body, I firmly believe that we must protect the 
rights of all eligible citizens to vote. Over the past few decades, 
minorities in this country have witnessed a pattern of efforts to 
intimidate and harass minority voters through so-called ``Voter Id'' 
requirements. I am sad to report that as we head into the 21st century, 
these efforts continue.
  Never in the history of our nation, has the effect of one person, one 
vote, been more important. A great Spanish Philosopher, George 
Santayana once said ``Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to 
repeat it.'' Our history has taught us that denying the right to vote 
based on race, gender or class is a stain on the democratic principles 
that we all value. The Voting Rights Act was a reaction to the actions 
of our passed and a way to pave the road to a new future.
  The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was adopted in 1965 and was extended in 
1970, 1975, and 1982. This legislation is considered the most 
successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United 
States Congress. Contrary to the prevailing rumor that the Act is due 
to expire, leaving minorities with no rights, the Act is actually due 
for reauthorization in the 2nd session of the 108th Congress--there is 
no doubt about whether it will continue to protect our rights in the 
  The VRA codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment's permanent 
guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the 
right to vote on account of race or color. Adopted at a time when 
African Americans were substantially disfranchised in many Southern 
states, the Act employed measures to restore the right to vote to 
citizens of all U.S. states.
  By 1965, proponents of disenfranchisement made violent attempts to 
thwart the efforts of civil rights activists. The murder of voting-
rights activists in Philadelphia and Mississippi gained national 
attention, along with numerous other acts of violence and terrorism.
  Finally, the unprovoked attack on March 7, 1965, by state troopers on 
peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, 
en route to the state capitol in Montgomery, persuaded the President 
and Congress to overcome Southern legislators' resistance to effective 
voting rights legislation. President Johnson issued a call for a strong 
voting rights law and hearings began soon thereafter on the bill that 
would become the Voting Rights Act.
  Congress adopted this far-reaching statute in response to a rash of 
instances of interference with attempts by African American citizens to 
exercise their right to vote--a rash that appears to be manifesting 
itself again in this nation. Perhaps a legislative measure is needed to 
respond in a way that the VRA did.
  The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the VRA in 1966 in 
a landmark decision--South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 327-

       Congress had found that case-by-case litigation was 
     inadequate to combat widespread and persistent discrimination 
     in voting, because of the inordinate amount of time and 
     energy required to overcome the obstructionist tactics 
     invariably encountered in these lawsuits. After enduring 
     nearly a century of systematic resistance to the Fifteenth 
     Amendment, Congress might well decide to shift the advantage 
     of time and inertia from the perpetrators of the evil to its 

[[Page H511]]

  It seems that the ``obstructionist tactics'' that threatened the 
aggrieved parties in Katzenbach have returned. The advantages of ``time 
and inertia'' that were shifted from bigoted bureaucrats to minority 
victims are slowly shifting back against their favor when educators, 
government leaders, and agencies are allowed to contravene the policy 
and legal conclusions given by the highest court in the country.
  Several factors influenced the initiation of this civil rights 
legislation. The first was a large shift in the number of African 
Americans away from the Republican Party. Second, many Democrats felt 
that it was a mistake of its Southern members to oppose civil rights 
legislation because they could lose more of the African American and 
liberal votes.
  No right is more fundamental than the right to vote. It is protected 
by more constitutional amendments--the 1st, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 
26th--than any other right we enjoy as Americans. Broad political 
participation ensures the preservation of all our other rights and 
freedoms. 3 State laws that impose new restrictions on voting, however, 
undermine our strong democracy by impeding access to the polls and 
reducing the number of Americans who vote and whose votes are counted.

                          VOTER IDENTIFICATION

  There have been several restrictive voting bills considered and 
approved by states in the past several years. The most commonly 
advanced initiatives are laws that require voters to present photo 
identification when voting in person. Additionally, states have 
proposed or passed laws to require proof of citizenship when 
registering to vote; to eliminate the right to register to vote and to 
submit a change of address within the same state on Election Day; to 
shorten the time allowed for early voting; to make it more difficult 
for third-party organizations to conduct voter registration; and even 
to eliminate a mandate on poll workers to direct voters who go to the 
wrong precinct.
  These recent changes are on top of the disfranchisement laws in 48 
states that deprive an estimated 5.3 million people with criminal 
convictions--disproportionately African Americans and Latinos--of their 
political voice.
  Voter ID laws are becoming increasingly common across the country. 
Today, 31 states have laws requiring voters to present some form of 
identification to vote in federal, state and local elections, although 
some laws or initiatives passed in 2011 have not yet gone into effect. 
Some must also be pre-cleared under the Voting Rights Act prior to 
implementation. In 16 of those 31 States, voters must (or will soon be 
required to) present a photo ID--that in many states must be 
government-issued--in order to cast a ballot.
  Voter ID laws deny the right to vote to thousands of registered 
voters who do not have, and, in many instances, cannot obtain the 
limited identification states accept for voting. Many of these 
Americans cannot afford to pay for the required documents needed to 
secure a government issued photo ID. As such, these laws impede access 
to the polls and are at odds with the fundamental right to vote.
  In total, more than 21 million Americans of voting age lack 
documentation that would satisfy photo ID laws, and a disproportionate 
number of these Americans are low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, 
and elderly. As many as 25% of African Americans of voting age lack 
government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of their white 
counterparts. Eighteen percent of Americans over the age of 65 do not 
have government-issued photo ID.
  Laws requiring photo identification to vote are a ``solution'' in 
search of a problem. There is no credible evidence that in-person 
impersonation voter fraud--the only type of fraud that photo IDs could 
prevent--is even a minor problem. Multiple studies have found that 
almost all cases of alleged in-person impersonation voter ``fraud'' are 
actually the result of a voter making an inadvertent mistake about 
their eligibility to vote, and that even these mistakes are extremely 
  It is important, instead, to focus on both expanding the franchise 
and ending practices which actually threaten the integrity of the 
elections, such as improper purges of voters, voter harassment, and 
distribution of false information about when and where to vote. None of 
these issues, however, are addressed or can be resolved with a photo ID 
  Furthermore, requiring voters to pay for an ID, as well as the 
background documents necessary to obtain an ID in order to vote, is 
tantamount to a poll tax. Although some states issue IDs for free, the 
birth certificates, passports, or other documents required to secure a 
government-issued ID cost money, and many Americans simply cannot 
afford to pay for them. In addition, obtaining a government-issued 
photo ID is not an easy task for all members of the electorate. Low-
income individuals who lack the funds to pay for documentation, people 
with disabilities with limited access to transportation, and elderly.
  Americans who never had a birth certificate and cannot obtain 
alternate proof of their birth in the U.S., are among those who face 
significant or insurmountable obstacles to getting the photo ID needed 
to exercise their right to vote. For example, because of Texas' 
recently passed voter ID law, an estimated 36,000 people in West 
Texas's District 19 are 137 miles from the nearest full service 
Department of Public Safety office, where those without IDs must travel 
to preserve their right to vote under the state's new law.
  In addition, women who have changed their names due to marriage or 
divorce often experience difficulties with identity documentation, as 
did Andrea, who recently moved from Massachusetts to South Carolina and 
who, in the span of a month, spent more than 17 hours online and in 
person trying without success to get a South Carolina driver's license.
  Voter ID laws send not-so-subtle messages about who is and is not 
encouraged to vote. As states approve laws requiring photo ID to vote, 
each formulates its own list of acceptable forms of documentation. 
Another common thread emerging from disparate state approaches is a 
bias against robust student electoral participation.
  Henceforth, students at Wisconsin colleges and universities will not 
be able to vote using their student ID cards, unless those cards have 
issuance dates, expiration dates, and signatures.
  Currently, only a handful of Wisconsin colleges and universities are 
issuing compliant IDs. Nor will South Carolina, Texas, or Tennessee 
accept student identification at the polls.
  Policies that limit students' electoral participation are 
particularly suspect, appearing on the heels of unprecedented youth 
turnout in the 2008 election.
  Four states with new voter identification mandates, including my home 
state of Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama, are required 
under the Voting Rights Act to have these voting changes pre-cleared by 
either the Department of Justice (DOJ) or a panel of federal judges. 
Before they may be implemented, DOJ must certify that these laws do not 
have the purpose or effect of restricting voting by racial or language 
minority groups.
  Thus far, South Carolina and Texas both have submitted applications 
to DOJ that have been formally opposed in written submissions. DOJ has 
requested further information from both states, and the applications 
are on hold. Alabama's ID requirements do not take effect until 2014, 
so the state has not yet applied to DOJ for preclearance. Mississippi's 
voter ID requirement was approved by voters on November 8, 2011, so a 
preclearance request has not yet been submitted.
  In countries scattered across this earth, citizens are denied the 
right to speak their hearts and minds. In this country, only a few 
decades ago, the right to vote was limited by race, sex, or the 
financial ability to own land. When a vote is not cast, it is a 
referendum on all those who fought so hard and tirelessly for our 
rights. When a vote is cast, it is cast not only for you and the future 
but also for all those who never had the chance to pull a lever.
  We are still working to make Martin Luther King's dream a reality, a 
reality in which our government's decisions are made out in the open 
not behind cigar filled closed doors.
  The time to take back the country is at hand, and we are the ones 
with the power to do just that. To do so we must allow all citizens who 
are eligible to vote, with the right to excise this decision without 
tricks or tactics to dilute their right to vote.
  Instances of voter intimidation are not long ago and far away. Just 
last year I sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to draw 
his attention to several disturbing instances of voter intimidation 
that had taken place in Houston. In a single week there were at least 
15 reports of abuse of voter rights throughout the city of Houston.
  As a Senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee, I called for an 
immediate investigation of these instances. Many of these incidents of 
voter intimidation were occurring in predominately minority 
neighborhoods and have been directed at African-Americans and Latinos. 
It is unconscionable to think that anyone would deliberately employ the 
use of such forceful and intimidating tactics to undermine the 
fundamental, Constitutional right to vote. However, such conduct has 
regrettably occurred in Houston, and I urge you to take appropriate 
action to ensure that it does not recur.
  I am here today in the name of freedom, patriotism, and democracy. I 
am here to demand that the long hard fought right to vote continues to 
be protected.
  A long, bitter, and bloody struggle was fought for the Voting Rights 
Act of 1965 so that all Americans could enjoy the right to vote, 
regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. Americans died in 
that fight so that others could achieve what they had been forcefully 
deprived of for centuries--the ability to walk freely and without fear 
into the polling place and cast a voting ballot.

[[Page H512]]

  Efforts to keep minorities from fully exercising that franchise, 
however, continue. Indeed, in the past thirty years, we have witnessed 
a pattern of efforts to intimidate and harass minority voters including 
efforts that were deemed ``Ballot Security'' programs that include the 
mailing of threatening notices to African-American voters, the carrying 
of video cameras to monitor polls, the systematic challenging of 
minority voters at the polls on unlawful grounds, and the hiring of 
guards and off-duty police officers to intimidate and frighten voters 
at the polls.
  My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have a particularly poor 
track record when it comes to documented acts of voter intimidation. In 
1982, a Federal Court in New Jersey provided a consent order that 
forbids the Republican National Committee from undertaking any ballot 
security activities in a polling place or election district where race 
or ethnic composition is a factor in the decision to conduct such 
activities and where a purpose or significant effect is to deter 
qualified voters from voting. These reprehensible practices continue to 
plague our Nation's minority voters.

                       VOTING RIGHTS ACT HISTORY

  August 6, 2011, marked the 46th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
  Most Americans take the right to vote for granted. We assume that we 
can register and vote if we are over 18 and are citizens. Most of us 
learned in school that discrimination based on race, creed or national 
origin has been barred by the Constitution since the end of the Civil 
  Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, however, the right to vote did not 
exist in practice for most African Americans. And, until 1975, most 
American citizens who were not proficient in English faced significant 
obstacles to voting, because they could not understand the ballot.
  Even though the Indian Citizenship Act gave Native Americans the 
right to vote in 1924, state law determined who could actually vote, 
which effectively excluded many Native Americans from political 
participation for decades.
  Asian Americans and Asian immigrants also have suffered systematic 
exclusion from the political process and it has taken a series of 
reforms, including repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, and 
passage of amendments strengthening the Voting Rights Act three decades 
later, to fully extend the franchise to Asian Americans. It was with 
this history in mind that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to 
make the right to vote a reality for all Americans.
  And the Voting Rights Act has made giant strides toward that goal. 
Without exaggeration, it has been one of the most effective civil 
rights laws passed by Congress.
  In 1964, there were only approximately 300 African-Americans in 
public office, including just three in Congress. Few, if any, black 
elected officials were elected anywhere in the South. Today there are 
more than 9,100 black elected officials, including 43 members of 
Congress, the largest number ever. The act has opened the political 
process for many of the approximately 6l,000 Latino public officials 
that have been elected and appointed nationwide, including 263 at the 
state or federal level, 27 of whom serve in Congress. And Native 
Americans, Asians and others who have historically encountered harsh 
barriers to full political participation also have benefited greatly.
  We must not forget the importance of protecting this hard earned 

                                VOTER ID

  An election with integrity is one that is open to every eligible 
voter. Restrictive voter ID requirements degrade the integrity of our 
elections by systematically excluding large numbers of eligible 
  I do not argue with the notion that we must prevent individuals from 
voting who are not allowed to vote. Yet a hidden argument in this bill 
is that immigrants may ``infiltrate'' our voting system. Legal 
immigrants who have successfully navigated the citizenship maze are 
unlikely to draw the attention of the authorities by attempting to 
register incorrectly. Similarly, undocumented immigrants are even less 
likely to risk deportation just to influence an election.
  If for no other reason than after a major disaster be it earth 
quakes, fires, floods or hurricanes, we must all understand how 
vulnerable our system is. Families fleeing the hurricanes and fires 
suffered loss of property that included lost documents. Compounding 
this was the devastation of the region, which virtually shut down civil 
services in the area. For example, New Orleans residents after 
Hurricane Katrina were scattered across 44 states. These uprooted 
citizens had difficulty registering and voting both with absentee 
ballots and at satellite voting stations. As a result, those elections 
took place fully 8 months after the disaster, and it required the 
efforts of non-profits, such as the NAACP, to ensure that voters had 
the access they are constitutionally guaranteed.
  We need to address the election fraud that we know occurring, such as 
voting machine integrity and poll volunteer training and competence. 
After every election that occurs in this country, we have solid 
documented evidence of voting inconsistencies and errors. In 2004, in 
New Mexico, malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly 
register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots. 1 million 
ballots nationwide were flawed by faulty voting equipment--roughly one 
for every 100 cast.
  Those who face the most significant barriers are not only the poor, 
minorities, and rural populations. 1.5 million college students, whose 
addresses change often, and the elderly, will also have difficulty 
providing documentation.
  In fact, newly married individuals face significant barriers to 
completing a change in surname. For instance, it can take 6-8 weeks to 
receive the marriage certificate in the mail, another two weeks (and a 
full day waiting in line) to get the new Social Security card, and 
finally three-four weeks to get the new driver's license. There is a 
significant possibility that this bill will also prohibit newlyweds 
from voting if they are married within three months of Election Day.
  The right to vote is a critical and sacred constitutionally protected 
civil right. To challenge this is to erode our democracy, challenge 
justice, and mock our moral standing. I urge my colleagues to join me 
in dismissing this crippling legislation, and pursue effective 
solutions to the real problems of election fraud and error. We cannot 
let the rhetoric of an election year destroy a fundamental right upon 
which we have established liberty and freedom.