House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) renewed his call for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, suggesting Monday that it would have stopped Alabama from implementing a law requiring a photo ID at the ballot box. Scrutiny of the voter ID law has increased with the announcement that Alabama will close 31 driver’s licenses offices in the state – many in rural counties with a high percentage of black residents – which voting rights advocates fear will make it harder for African-Americans to obtain the IDs required vote. “The Voting Rights Act was born from the bloody actions in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965, and since the Supreme Court struck down one of its most important protections – the federal Justice Department’s ability to prevent discriminatory rules like Alabama’s photo identification requirement – our democracy has been weakened,” Hoyer said in a statement Monday evening.
Saying voter discrimination “has not gone away,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called on GOP leaders Tuesday to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Maryland Democrat said the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision eliminating central provisions of the law “clearly undermined the protections of the right to vote in this country” and urged Republicans to replace those provisions this year. “The majority of the court was simply wrong,” Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “Something that had helped solve the problem, and made sure it didn’t reoccur, was jettisoned.” Republican leaders have shown little interest in the issue. And last week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), head of the House Judiciary Committee, said congressional reforms are unnecessary because “substantial” parts of the VRA remain intact. “To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection in this area,” he said Wednesday during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
House Democrats are amping up their pressure on GOP leaders to move on legislation to restore voting rights protections shot down by the Supreme Court last year. In a March 27 letter, Democratic leaders noted that the high court’s ruling “acknowledged the persistence of voter discrimination,” and they urged the Republicans to take up a bipartisan proposal, designed to counteract such prejudices, before November’s elections. “Some of us believe the bill should be enacted in its current form, and some of us would prefer to see it amended,” the Democrats wrote to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “But all of us stand united in our desire for the House to consider the issue in time for the entire Congress to work its will before the August district work period.” Spearheaded by Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, the letter was endorsed by 160 Democrats, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking member of the Judiciary panel, and Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), the House dean. GOP leaders have not said if they’ll try to move legislation on the issue this year.
A senior Democrat on Tuesday said he was “hopeful” the House would approve new voting rights legislation by the summer, despite the lack of an endorsement from the Republican leadership. “We are very hopeful that we will pass a voting rights bill and do so in the near term, hopefully in the next couple of months,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said during his weekly briefing with reporters. Hoyer over the weekend participated in an annual bipartisan pilgrimage to the South commemorating the civil rights movement. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also attended events on the trip, and Hoyer said he planned to meet with Cantor this week to discuss a legislative response to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Cantor has joined the pilgrimage with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights leader, for the past two years, but he has yet to take a position on a bill that Lewis wrote with GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.).
Two powerful Democrats are poised to urge President Obama to resuscitate a defunct federal panel created to help Americans vote. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) are preparing a resolution calling on the president to fill the vacancies on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), Hoyer said Tuesday. The four-seat board has been empty for more than a year, largely because GOP leaders — wary of Washington’s role in state-run elections — have refused to recommend nominees to fill the spots, as current law dictates. That’s a mistake, Hoyer said, particularly in a political environment where an increasing number of states have made it tougher to vote in the name of fighting fraud. “The Election Assistance Commission was established to provide advice and council on best practices on elections. It has been allowed to atrophy, and the Republicans want to eliminate it,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. “It’s interesting but disappointing.”
A divided Congress has no clear path to heed the call of Chief Justice John Roberts and President Obama to legislate in response to Tuesday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision that invalidated a portion of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Reaction on Capitol Hill largely mirrored the court’s ideological divide: Democrats called for legislation to establish new formulas to determine whether states must get federal permission before instituting changes in voting practices, while Republicans were more reticent on the necessity to pass a new law. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he would convene hearings next month to see what legislative recourse Congress can take. Leahy made clear his displeasure with the Supreme Court’s action to invalidate a law most recently reauthorized in 2006 with broad bipartisan support.
President Barack Obama emphasized the need to modernize the U.S. election system in his Inaugural Address. One bill to do just that is set to be introduced Wednesday by the civil rights hero Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.) — who knows a thing or two about how to expand democracy. Under his reform plan, states would have to take responsibility to make sure that every eligible voter is on the rolls. How? By taking existing computerized voter rolls, and expanding them with names voluntarily collected when citizens deal with government — including the Department of Motor Vehicles for drivers’ licenses, the Social Security Administration or other agencies. Any voter could opt in with the click of a mouse. The proposed bill would bring our antiquated system into the 21st century. The “Voter Empowerment Act,” introduced by Lewis with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), could transform the way we choose our leaders.
While the embarrassing debacle of the 2000 election may seem like a distant memory to some, the unfortunate reality is an encore may be on our doorstep. The Election Assistance Commission was created by the bipartisan Help America Vote Act of 2002 in order to avoid a repeat of the disastrous 2000 election, inspired directly by the failure of effective election administration in Florida that year. The only federal agency whose primary mission is to assist states carry out their elections and provide assistance to local election officials, the EAC has succeeded in this capacity beyond even the most optimistic projections. But now, due either to intentional neglect or outright calls for the agency’s elimination, the EAC is currently without any commissioners or a permanent executive director. While the agency persists in carrying out its mission, its spirit is sorely bruised.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) this week is unveiling his next step in the battle over voting rights in the form of a pop-up Web application that informs people where to vote and how to register. Hoyer and Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee, sent a letter to colleagues dated Monday to introduce the new application and encourage members to use it, specifically recommending sharing it through social media. The letter urges that it is the “responsibility” of elected leaders to help inform constituents about the democratic process. “In the last year, we have witnessed a nationwide assault on American citizens’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote,” they wrote. “Aside from the unnecessary, expensive, and ineffective new Voter ID laws, we have also seen targeted purges of eligible, registered voters from state rolls. Little has been done to educate the public about these actions. As a result, there are thousands of eligible voters at risk of being turned away from the polls while attempting to make choices about their federal representation.”
House Democratic leaders on Thursday introduced legislation to streamline Americans’ trips to the polls. The bill is a response to a slew of recent state legislation – some proposed, some already law – setting stricter standards for voters to register or cast a ballot. Supporters of those state efforts — including new picture ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements – say they’re necessary to weed out ineligible voters and maintain the integrity of elections. But critics contend they’re designed to suppress eligible voters, particularly minorities and low-income Americans who tend to vote Democratic.
House Democrats on Thursday unveiled new voting rights legislation designed to modernize voter registration while cracking down on practices that could discourage certain populations from voting. The Voter Empowerment Act appears to be a direct counter to a growing movement within the GOP at the state and national level to require voters to present a photo ID when voting. “The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. … We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the bill’s sponsors and a 1960s civil rights icon.
Five million. That’s the number of eligible voters that could find it harder to cast their ballot in the 2012 elections. It’s also the figure that advocates against state voting law changes repeatedly echoed during a Capitol Hill forum on new state voting laws that several House Democrats, including Representatives John Conyers, Steny Hoyer, Robert Brady, Jerrold Nadler, and Keith Ellison called Monday.
The NAACP, ACLU and League of Women Voters, among other research and advocacy organizations asked lawmakers to pass legislation to protect voters’ rights. They also wanted Congress to pressure the Department of Justice to deny approval to the states that need it for their new laws to take effect. So far, this includes Alabama, South Carolina and Texas, which are among the nine states that need federal approval for any changes to voting laws under the Voting Rights Act.
National: Democrats see election laws as revival of poll tax and threat to democratic process | TheHill.com
A wave of state election laws poses the single greatest threat to democracy and civil rights in generations, a number of House Democratic leaders charged Monday. The lawmakers said the reform laws — including new voter ID and registration requirements — are politically motivated efforts from Republicans to suppress voter turnout, particularly in minority communities that tend to vote Democratic. They compare the new mandates to the poll taxes adopted by Southern states to discourage African-Americans from voting after the Civil War.
“We know that voter suppression has been taking place, is [taking] place and is planned [to affect the next election],” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Monday during a Capitol Hill hearing on the new laws. “We are witnessing a concerted effort to place new obstacles in front of minorities, low-income families and young people who seek to exercise their right to vote.
House Democrats asked secretaries of state in all 50 states to oppose new voter identification laws because they threaten the right to vote for many Americans. “Today we are witnessing a concerted effort by Republican lawmakers across several states to place a new obstacle in front of minorities, low-income families and young people who seek to exercise their right to vote,” said Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said in a news conference Thursday.
The Democrats made the plea in a letter in which they ask the secretaries of state to put aside partisan considerations and be vigilant against fraud and protect access to the polls for all citizens. The letter had 196 House supporters Thursday, including delegates to U.S. territories.
The two parties sparred late Tuesday night over the proliferation of voter identification laws across the country, as several House Democrats said these laws would make it harder to minorities to vote, and a lone Republican said the evidence of voter fraud demands a solution such as ensuring all voters are legal U.S. citizens via a picture ID.
“They have only one true purpose, which is to disenfranchise eligible voters,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said on the floor of various state laws. Several Democrats joined her to add that Republican claims of voter fraud are baseless. “There is no threat of voter fraud,” Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said. “Are there rampant cases of impersonation, voting as someone else? No. Voter fraud is not rampant, there are not numerous cases of impersonation.”
Minority voters have long had problems simply exercising their right to vote in certain parts of the country – and minority lawmakers fear the situation will become worse in 2012. Their worries are heightened by new laws in 13 states that they say will restrict access to the ballot box. Some of the changes would require voters to show government-approved identification, restrict voter registration drives by third-party groups, curtail early voting, do away with same-day registration, and reverse rules allowing convicted felons who’ve served their time the right to vote.
In addition to the states that have passed such laws, 24 other states are weighing similar measures, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Proponents of the measures say they are needed to protect the integrity of the vote, prevent illegal immigrants from casting ballots, and clamp down on voter fraud, although several studies indicate that voter fraud is negligible.
Warrensville Heights Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge is asking Attorney General Eric Holder to examine whether voter photo identification laws that have been proposed in Ohio and adopted in several other states would violate the Voting Rights Act.
“Many of these bills only have one true purpose, the disenfranchisement of eligible voters – especially the elderly, young voters, students, minorities and low-income voters,” said a letter that Fudge sent Holder today with more than 100 House Democrats.
Tuesday night debate on a bill to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) resolved nothing, and if anything made it more clear that the bill runs the risk of failing on Wednesday, as all Democratic speakers spoke out against it.
The bill, H.R. 672, is up Wednesday on the suspension calendar, which means two-thirds of all voting members to support it for passage. Republicans would likely need more than 40 Democrats to support the bill for passage, but Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), one of the three Democratic members of the House Committee on Administration, predicted that Democrats would defeat the bill Wednesday.
House Republicans have set up a Tuesday suspension vote to repeal the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which they say is an agency in search of a mission that should be terminated to reduce federal spending. But Democrats are rejecting these arguments, making it unclear whether the bill can pass by the necessary two-thirds vote.
Republicans say the EAC can be safely terminated because it has fulfilled its primary mission, which is to offer grants to states to replace outdated voting equipment, such as punchcard and lever-based machines. The EAC was established in 2002, soon after the controversial 2000 presidential election that involved several weeks of recounting votes in Florida and related legal challenges.
Editorials: Floor Statement on Republican Efforts to Terminate the Election Assistance Commission | Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today in opposition to Republican efforts to terminate the Election Assistance Commission, the agency Congress created to help ensure fair elections. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“The right to vote is at the foundation of our democracy—and so it is extremely disappointing that this bill would undermine our nation’s ability to protect that right.
“I rise in strong opposition to this bill, which would cut funding for fair and accessible elections. Eliminating funding for the Election Assistance Commission would harm the integrity of our elections in 2012, and for years to come. Voters deserve assurance that their votes will count.
National: Republicans vote to end Election Assistance Commission, set up after Bush v. Gore – TheHill.com
Republicans on the Committee on House Administration have voted to eliminate the independent commission that was established to address election problems after the contested 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, has disbursed more than $3 billion in…
An effort by House Republicans to close the Election Assistance Commission cleared its first obstacle Wednesday. After some limited Democratic opposition, the House Administration Committee approved a bill that would remove funding from the EAC and transfer much of its responsibilities to the Federal Election Commission. The bill, which was approved by voice vote, is expected…
National: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to Testify Before House Administration Election Subcommittee | Committee on House Administration
On Thursday, April 14th, at 10:30am, the Elections Subcommittee of the Committee on House Administration will hold a hearing on H.R. 672, proposed legislation to abolish the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, one of the main architects of the Help America Vote Act which created the EAC, is scheduled to testify about…