Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, lead sponsors Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5), Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (SC-6), Rep. John Conyers (MI-13), Rep. Robert Brady (PA-1) and more than 178 Democrats reintroduced the Voter Empowerment Act in the House of Representatives. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York will introduce a companion version in the Senate. The Voter Empowerment Act will help ensure equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, will modernize our voter registration system to help more Americans participate, and takes steps to eliminate deceptive practices that deter voters from casting their ballots.
The struggle for voting access in America has been long and storied. It is not a right assured to every citizen. Most Americans had to struggle and some died to win voting access in this country. When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, only white Protestant men with property over the age of 21 could vote. During Reconstruction and the aftermath of the Civil War, the franchise expanded dramatically.
In 1856, North Carolina was the last state to remove property ownership as a restriction to voting, and the passage of 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution granted voting access to African Americans. Women did not win the right to vote until 1920, and it was only in1947 that Native Americans won that right. When it became possible for people of Asian descent to become citizens in 1952, they gained access to the ballot box. And it was not until 1961 that citizens of Washington, DC could vote to elect a U.S. president. Most Americans do not realize that the right to vote in America is not assured, is often complicated by political maneuvering, and can be restricted.
Sponsors offer the VEA today as a continuation of the on-going effort to ensure that every American has an equal and fair opportunity to make their voices heard through the electoral process. At a time when some states have implemented or are planning to implement new barriers for voters who may be seniors, students, low-income Americans, members of our Armed Services, disabled, or speak English as a second language, Democrats see the need to certify their efforts to protect voting access for all Americans. This 2017 bill also responds to the concerns regarding the security of the November 2016 election by adding provisions that allow states to upgrade their protection of their voter lists and voter registration processes.
“Despite the struggle that had ensued decades earlier to assure the right to vote for African Americans,” said Rep. John Lewis, “on this day in June in 1964, we were searching for three civil rights workers who went out to investigate the burning of a black church used for voter education efforts in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, and James Chaney were arrested enroute by the sheriff and released to the Ku Klux Klan. They were found weeks later beaten, shot, killed, and dumped in a swamp. That their sacrifice was required even after voting rights amendments to the Constitution were passed in 1868 and 1870, should demonstrate to every American that voting access can never be taken for granted. It must be defended by every generation until we have a truly open, inclusive democracy that allows every citizen’s voice to be heard. The VEA is our attempt to help create an open fair, and free democracy for all Americans.”
"From Russia's interference in our election to efforts at the state level to make it more difficult for eligible voters to access the ballot box, Congress has a responsibility to take action to make our voting systems more secure and accessible," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "That is why I'm proud to join Reps. Lewis, Clyburn, Conyers, and Brady to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act. Not only would it protect the integrity of our democracy by modernizing our voting systems, but it would also help ensure that every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot and make their voice heard. I urge Republican leaders to bring this bill to the Floor without delay."
Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn said, “In recent years, we’ve seen the proliferation of various creative devices that constitute a modern version of the Jim Crow-era practice of voter disenfranchisement. The Voter Empowerment Act will ensure that those who seek to cause mischief are held accountable, improve access to the ballot box, and protect the integrity of our elections. This bill is the product of a collaborative effort involving dozens of Members of Congress, and representatives from scores of advocacy organizations. Congress must pass this legislation in a timely manner.”
“The events surrounding the 2016 election,” said Rep. John Conyers, “make it clear that the federal government must invest in ensuring the fair and secure outcome of future elections. The Voter Empowerment Act will allow states to implement the modifications started under the Help America Vote Act and provide us with voting technology capable of taking on the challenges of the 21st century.
“Now, more than ever,” said Rep. Robert Brady, “Congress must take action to protect our democracy. I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act. This important legislation will modernize our voting system, make voting easier, and ensure that every eligible voter can exercise their right to vote.”“Our right to vote is sacred – it’s one of the most precious rights we have as American citizens – and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect it,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I’m proud to reintroduce the Voter Empowerment Act to help give Americans the opportunity to have their voices heard on Election Day without obstruction. I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation, which would modernize our voter registration process, eliminate barriers that discourage people from casting their ballots, and ensure that voting is equal, fair, and accessible for all Americans.”