Rep. Maxine Waters on H.R. 9, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006
Mr. Chairman and Members, as an African American woman Member of Congress, I consider it my profound and welcome duty to use my voice and my vote to continue the struggle of the civil rights movement to guarantee the right to vote to African Americans and all Americans.
Mr. Chairman, I have a difficult time explaining to African Americans all over this country why the Congress of the United States has to continue to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. The answer to that question is sad but simple and true. Discrimination.
America, we stand before you today reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act because we have to continue to have safeguards in law to prevent cities, counties, States and other jurisdictions from devising laws, practices, tricks and procedures that impede the right to vote by minorities in this country.
One may ask, what laws and tricks are you alluding to?
Mr. Chairman, in the past, the tricks were poll taxes, literacy tests and voter intimidation. Today, and throughout the years, the laws and tricks have changed but the game is the same: Deny and prevent minorities from exercising the power of selection of candidates and laws by any means necessary.
What are some of these tactics being used today in some jurisdictions in America? Oh, they are tactics like, in Georgia, create the need for an identification card that you have to pay for that is only issued by the State.
In Florida, create databases identifying people as felons, people who have never ever been arrested before, change voting rights laws so that you create at-large districts instead of districts where minorities can be elected from. Minority candidates get elected by districts, and when you create these at-large districts, you eliminate the possibility of their getting elected. Place uniformed guards at polling places to intimidate voters. The list goes on and on.
The Voting Rights Act will guarantee preclearance of these attempted discriminatory acts and, hopefully, deny these kinds of actions.
Opposition to the Gohmert Amendment to Reduce the 25-year Reauthorization Period to 10 Years
I strongly oppose the Gohmert amendment. It reduces the 25-year reauthorization period of the expiring provisions to 10 years.
The provisions set to expire in 2007 include section 5, which requires jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination to obtain Federal approval for any new voting practices or procedures implemented. Section 203 ensures that American citizens with limited English proficiency get the help they need at the polls. Sections 6 through 9 authorize the Attorney General to appoint Federal election observers where there is evidence of attempts to intimidate minority voters at the polls.
These provisions require the creation of a credible record. Most important, each of the expiring provisions depends upon the conduct of State elections, all of which operate independently and on schedules that do not coincide. Furthermore, lawsuits that come out of these expiring provisions make the creation of a record a very difficult task.
If Congress were to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act for short periods of time, as this amendment suggests, it would create an incentive for jurisdictions to "wait out" their obligations rather than comply, thus contributing to widespread noncompliance with the statute that continued into the late 1970s.
In order for Congress to let voters know whether discrimination still exists in particular jurisdictions, it must be able to review voting changes through multiple redistricting cycles. The 3 years following the decennial census represent the time of the highest volume of voting changes and the greatest opportunity for discrimination.
The 25-year reauthorization period already in H.R. 9 is the product of numerous oversight hearings as well as analysis by Representatives, scholars, and election law practitioners. The amendment by the gentleman from Texas should be defeated because it simply is not sound.
Mr. Speaker, Members, today's debate on the floor of Congress that will remind America of the continuing struggle of African Americans and minorities to seek justice in our country.
I have a hard time explaining to my constituents and African Americans all over this country why we must reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. They say to me, well, we thought we had done away with poll taxes; we thought we had done away with intimidation. Well, let me just say, we have all kinds of obstacles being placed in our way. It is the same game with a different name.
So we stand here today to protect the fight and the struggle of our ancestors who insisted that we take part in this democracy and we have the right to vote. And despite the new tricks and the new laws and the new procedures, we must say to those who continue to try, you must go before the Justice Department and get preclearance before you can initiate laws and practices that would place obstacles in our way.
This is a good debate for America today. I stand in the struggle to protect our right to vote.
Finally, I ask my colleagues, don't disrespect the civil rights movement. Don't dishonor us. Pass this voting rights reauthorization bill and show the world that America is sincere about democracy.