Press Releases

Los Angeles Area Members of Congress Hear Testimony at “Protect Your Future: Restore the Vote” Voting Rights Forum

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Los Angeles, CA, May 20, 2016 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), and Judy Chu (CA-27) today heard testimony from experts on the importance of strengthening voting rights protections at the “Protect Your Future: Restore the Vote” forum at East Los Angeles College.  Held in conjunction with the Democratic Outreach & Engagement Task Force, the “Protect Your Future: Restore the Vote” forum hosted expert panelists for a discussion about steps Congress should take to ensure every American’s right to vote is protected.

The members of Congress were joined by Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37); California Secretary of State Alex Padilla; Sean Dugar, Western Regional Field Director for the NAACP Western Region I; Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director – Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles; Sandra Perez, National Director of Civic Engagement – NALEO Educational Fund; and Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel – MALDEF.

The forum examined the coordinated nationwide attack on voting rights for minorities, the legal erosion of the Voting Rights Act as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, and the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation to strengthen and restore the Voting Rights Act.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard: “Today’s forum offered clear evidence that the right to vote is under attack.  Our democracy cannot flourish unless every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot easily and conveniently.  Sadly, many states are enforcing new barriers to voter registration and polling sites, primarily in communities of color.  As a member of Congress, and as a member of the Democratic Outreach and Engagement Task Force, I am committed to fighting for full restoration of Voting Rights Act protections, and educating Angelenos and all Americans about the value of voting and civic engagement.”

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez: “As we heard from our expert panel today, there is a coordinated effort to erode voting rights across the country.  It’s no coincidence that these laws, most often crafted by Republican legislatures, are designed to deliberately disenfranchise people of color, low-income individuals, and seniors.  The only way we can stop these constant attacks on our community is for Congress to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation like the Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore these vital protections.” 

Congresswoman Judy Chu: “This forum could not come at a more important time. There’s a critical election coming up in California in just a few weeks, and later this year, we will have the opportunity to determine our next president.  But before that happens, we have to make sure that each of our votes count.  As Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I know that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders – like other communities of color - are no strangers to disenfranchisement.  After 60 years of being kept from having a voice in our democracy by the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Voting Rights Act finally provided protections like translated voting materials, absentee ballots, and freedom from intimidation at the polls.  Unfortunately, the Shelby decision opened the gates for states to begin rolling those protections back, once again isolating minority communities.  That is why I am so happy to be a part of today’s important forum on the Voting Rights Advancement Act and what we can do to protect the right of all Americans to vote.”

Congresswoman Karen Bass: “In my role on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I hear all the time about the United States extolling the virtues of free and fair elections and democracy.  It seems ludicrous that we have to fight, given all the progress we’ve made and all the lecturing we have done around the world, to make sure we are being inclusive in our own voting laws.  Rules to limit voting in states across the country are a stain on our democracy and worth fighting for.”

Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State: “Voting rights are the foundation of our democracy. When more citizens vote our state is stronger and government is more representative of the people it serves.  While other states are placing restrictions on voting, in California we are working to strengthen voting rights for all citizens.  With the May 23rd voter registration deadline fast approaching I thank Representatives Sanchez, Bass, Chu, and Roybal-Allard for hosting a timely discussion on voting rights.”

Sean Dugar, NAACP Western Regional Director: “Our members have marched, organized, fought and died for the right to unfettered access to the ballot box, which no longer has the full protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This forum is a step in the direction getting Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act and other critical pro-democracy legislation to ensure every voice is heard and every vote is counted equally.” 

Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles: “Former Section 5 jurisdictions are home to the most rapidly growing Asian American populations.  The termination of Section 5 coverage comes at a pivotal moment for Asian American communities, which in recent years have begun to emerge politically in these states as they increase in size.  I want to thank the leadership and vision of Congressmembers Chu, Roybal-Allard, and Sanchez in advocating for the restoration of Voting Rights through the Voting Rights Advancement Act.  I call on Congress to come together to pass this bill and restore the protections needed to ensure a stronger democracy.”

Arturo Vargas, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund: “More than 875,000 eligible Latino voters will find it more difficult to vote this November than in 2012 because of restrictive lawmaking.  Every individual has a part to play in protecting our electoral process from the ill effects of discriminatory laws and policies.  As a community, working together, we can hold Congress accountable by bringing to light the problematic incidents that demonstrate the continued need for a robust Voting Rights Act.”

Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund): “Since 2013, the entire nation has suffered from congressional leadership's refusal to honor the enduring legacy of the civil rights movement by fixing the damage done to the Voting Rights Act through the decision of a narrow majority of the Supreme Court.  Both voters who are deprived of their essential right to participate, and taxpayers in jurisdictions forced to pay the higher costs of adjudicating voting rights disputes, feel the palpable harm from this dereliction of congressional duty."

BACKGROUND

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Shelby County v. Holder that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional – essentially gutting the most powerful tool this nation has ever had to stop discriminatory voting practices from becoming law. 

Section 4 established the formulas for how the Justice Department enforces Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  Section 5 requires states identified with a history of discrimination to obtain preclearance from the Justice Department before making changes to their election law. 

This impacted the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia; it also impacted parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.  After Shelby County v. Holder, these areas are free to make changes to election law or district maps without approval from the Justice Department.

Following Shelby County v. Holder, state legislatures across the country have been far more active in creating hurdles to the ballot.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at the beginning of the 2016 legislative session, and as of March 25, 2016, at least 77 bills to restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced or carried over from the prior session in 28 states.

And 2016 will see the greatest expansion of barriers in the history of presidential elections with new voting restrictions in place in 17 states.  Those 17 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  Since 2010, 22 states have implemented new voting restrictions. 

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