Cummings Delivers CBC Message to America on Voting Rights
Washington, D.C. (October 3, 2016)—Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), a founding Member of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, delivered the Congressional Black Caucus’ (CBC) Message to America on the importance of voting rights in the United States.
Cummings is investigating Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Executive Director Brian Newby’s unilateral decision to grant the requests of Georgia, Kansas and Alabama to modify the federal voter registration form to require proof of citizenship in those states. Last week, Cummings questioned Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp about the justification for Georgia’s request; Cummings also urged Newby to rescind his unilateral action after it was revealed that he failed to weigh the potential for voter disenfranchisement in the three states. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an order temporarily halting and reversing Newby’s action.
Click here to watch Cummings’ CBC Message to America. A full transcript follows:
I am Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, and I am proud to represent the people of Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District.
I am pleased to deliver this week’s Congressional Black Caucus Message to America: Protecting Our Progress at the Ballot Box.
The CBC was founded in 1971, and in the decades since, we have earned our reputation as the “conscience of the Congress.”
For more than 40 years, the CBC has fought to protect and expand the right to vote for all Americans.
So my friends, it is in that spirit, with days until our nation elects its next President that I bring to your attention blatant attempts to deny our community access to the ballot box.
Thousands of African Americans marched, protested, fought and even died to ensure that every American had a voice in our democracy.
Urging Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in the spring of 1965, one week after Congressman John Lewis marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, President Lyndon Johnson said: “…all Americans just must have the right to vote. And we are going to give them that right.”
President Lyndon Johnson was right. The right to vote is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans. It ensures that we each have a voice in this democracy.
After the Voting Rights Act was enacted, African Americans were finally able to fully and freely participate in elections, and we’ve seen real change as a result over the years.
African Americans were elected to serve and represent their communities at the state, local and national levels.
And decades later, I will never forget the pride I felt watching Black Americans turn out to the polls in record numbers to elect our nation’s first African American president in 2008.
In 2012, for the first time in any U.S. presidential election, eligible African Americans voted at a higher rate than white Americans.
So I was disheartened when, in 2013, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder rolled back many of the protections that have guaranteed access to the ballot box for African Americans.
In finding the formula at work in the Voting Rights Act to be out of date, the Supreme Court unfortunately removed one of the most effective tools the federal government has used to prevent states from passing laws that unfairly keep people from the ballot box.
It should come as no surprise that Republican-controlled state governments nationwide saw this as their opportunity to pass some of the most egregious voter suppression legislation since Jim Crow.
In one of the most appalling examples, only weeks after the Supreme Court’s Shelby Decision, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature passed a voter suppression omnibus that restricted early voting; required voters to present photo identification at the polls; and eliminated same-day voter registration.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit thankfully recognized this law for what it was, and struck it down, saying it “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
While the court protected the rights of African Americans in North Carolina for this election, there are still new voter suppression laws on the books in 14 other states that will be in effect for the first time in a presidential election this fall.
Voters in all those states will now face significant hurdles to accessing the ballot box.
It is clear that we cannot rely solely on the courts. Congress must act.
It is time for Speaker Paul Ryan to bring legislation to restore and update the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act to the House floor.
We know that there is bipartisan support for this legislation.
The proliferation of voter suppression legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision is proof that the protections of the Voting Rights Act are still very much needed in this nation today.
As President Johnson told Members of Congress in 1965: “…all Americans just must have the right to vote.”
He was right then, and he is right today.
This isn’t about the 2016 election. This is much bigger than that. Many people died for the right to vote, and it is Congressional malpractice to sit by and watch that right dissolve.
We must protect our progress not just for ourselves, but for generations yet unborn.