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Congresswoman Maxine Waters Urges Justice Department to Protect Right to Vote as Concerns About Disenfranchisement Grow

July 15, 2009
Press Release

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to protect the rights of Americans to vote and to investigate thoroughly and immediately complaints about efforts to suppress or interfere with the rights of eligible voters.

Congresswoman Waters expressed her concerns in a letter this week to Attorney General Michael Mukasey:

I am writing to urge you to fully carry out your responsibilities under the Constitution and the laws of the United States to ensure that no eligible American is prevented from exercising his or her right to vote. I am very concerned about the growing number of reports in numerous states indicating that the ability of eligible citizens to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming elections might be at risk. I request that you share with me the status of any investigations that the Department of Justice has undertaken to prevent election crimes or other efforts to suppress or interfere with the right of eligible individuals to vote. Credible complaints must be investigated in a timely and thorough manner by the Department of Justice when these complaints are brought to the Department's attention and not after the upcoming elections.  

As Election Day (November 4th) approaches, and early voting is already underway in many states, there have been troubling reports about impediments to voting.  Congresswoman Waters cited "a widely reported scheme in Michigan to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters at their polling places."    

During a September 16th oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, of which she is a member, Congresswoman Waters asked the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate this matter, noting that the FBI had done commendable work this year to investigate and prosecute some of the institutions and individuals who have been involved in mortgage fraud and other activities that have contributed to the financial crisis that our nation is currently experiencing.  On September 18th, she joined Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and other Members of the Judiciary Committee in sending a letter to the Attorney General requesting a prompt investigation of complaints regarding the use of foreclosure lists to challenge voters in Michigan.  

In her more recent letter to the Attorney General, Congresswoman Waters – who chairs the Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity – explained, "I have been particularly concerned about those who have engaged in predatory lending because this illegal practice disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable in this country, including the elderly, the poor and minorities."  Efforts to disqualify voters on the basis of foreclosures would similarly target members of these groups.

Last month, Congresswoman Waters introduced House Concurrent Resolution 424, which urges the Department of Justice to protect the right to vote of every eligible person in the United States by promptly and thoroughly investigating possible violations of federal law.  The Resolution enumerates some of the most serious complaints of problems and possible violations of federal law, including voter caging, deceptive practices, and improper list purges.  If unaddressed, they could interfere with the right to vote of citizens in Michigan, Virginia, Mississippi, Maryland, Florida and other states affected by recent hurricanes or natural disasters.  This Resolution currently has 61 co-sponsors.

Congresswoman Waters noted that the New York Times published an investigative report on October 9th that describes in detail possible violations of federal law in several states that have resulted in tens of thousands of eligible voters being wrongly removed from the voting rolls or blocked from registering to vote.  "It appears that media organizations have conducted more investigations into these allegations than the Department of Justice," she wrote.

The implementation of a new "No Match, No Vote" state law in Florida potentially threatens to disenfranchise thousands of voters in that pivotal swing state, which of course was at the center of the controversial presidential election contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000.   Several Members of the Florida Congressional Delegation, who are also cosponsors of H. Con. Res. 424, sent a letter to the Governor of Florida earlier this month expressing concerns.

Because voting rights are fundamental rights within a democracy and because the consequences of this year's elections are so significant, Congresswoman Waters wants to make sure the rights of all Americans are protected.  In concluding her letter, she wrote, "Given the growing number of reports of problems that could result in the disenfranchisement of countless voters in several states, I believe it is imperative for the Department of Justice to accelerate the investigation of these complaints immediately.  I am deeply concerned that failure to act could result in the irreversible loss of the exercise of the right to vote in the upcoming election.  Investigations after the elections will not cure the damage of a lost vote in what has been described as the most important election in a generation."

Click here to see the letter.