Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
Speaker, House of Representatives; California—12th Congressional District
Today, the mainstay of our American democracy – the sacred right to be heard at the ballot box – is under continued threat: a threat which the National Urban League has always recognized has an impact on the state of Black America.
As we saw in the last election cycle, voter suppression remains a shameful reality in America. In Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota and countless communities across America, historically disenfranchised communities have been confronted by pernicious and blatantly partisan efforts to turn back the clock and erect barriers to the ballot box. Enabled further by the disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision, a vast, relentless voter suppression campaign has arisen: from the enactment of strict voter ID laws and restrictive absentee voting deadlines; to extreme gerrymandering that rigs the map against communities of color; to brazen purging of voters from voting rolls; to efforts to shrink the number of polling places, limit polling hours and discourage early voting, in addition to rejecting lawful ballots.
In addition to voter suppression, the vote is being jeopardized by the continued threat of foreign attacks on our election systems. In the 2016 presidential election, Russia launched a massive cyber-attack against the United States, breaching election systems in 21 states and stealing records containing voters’ private information. Simultaneously, foreign agents spread disinformation to influence the American electorate through hundreds of thousands of social media posts, which were viewed by millions of people. Yet, the Trump administration continues to refuse to hold Russia accountable and rejects Democratic initiatives to secure our elections from future attacks.
This cannot stand. The United States Congress has a constitutional – and a moral – responsibility to do everything in our power to protect the vote, ensuring that every citizen can exercise his or her right to vote and that every vote is counted as cast. That is why, starting on Day One, our new Democratic House Majority took bold, urgently-needed action by advancing H.R. 1, the For The People Act: our landmark, transformative legislation to restore the promise of our democracy. We will restore the people’s faith that government works for the public interest, not the special interests by reducing the role of big dark money in politics, advancing fair elections and cleaning up corruption in Washington. This landmark legislation makes it easier not harder to vote:
- Improving Access to the Ballot Box – H.R. 1 incorporates Congressman John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act and expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at key institutional barriers to voting, such as burdensome registration systems and limited voting hours. H.R. 1 creates automatic voter registration across the country, ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored , and expands voting by mail and early voting by modernizing the U.S. voting system. Congressman John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act, a key pillar of H.R. 1, ensures equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, modernizes our voter registration system in ways that help more Americans participate and takes steps to eliminate deceptive practices that deter voters from casting their ballots.
- Promote Integrity in our Elections – H.R. 1 fights back against Republicans’ assault on voting rights by committing Congress to build the constitutional record necessary to restore the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting voter roll purges, and ensuring that discriminatory voter ID laws do not prevent Americans citizens from exercising their rights. We are proud to restore the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, chaired by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, which will hold hearings to advance the Voting Rights Act and protect access to the ballot. H.R. 1 also ends partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters and silencing the voices of traditionally disenfranchised communities.
- Ensure Secure Election Systems – H.R. 1 ensures that American elections are decided by American voters without interference by foreign adversaries. The bill enhances federal support for voting system security, particularly paper ballots, and increases oversight over election vendors.
To fully combat the assault on voting rights, the Democratic House is moving forward the Voting Rights Advancement Act, introduced by Congresswoman Terri Sewell. This vital legislation restores the protections and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act after being seriously weakened by the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision.
The VRAA restores a powerful tool that determines which states and localities with a recent history of voting rights violation must preclear election changes with the Department of Justice. This legislation also requires a nationwide, practice-based preclearance for known discriminatory practices such as the creation of at-large districts, inadequate multilingual voting materials, and cuts to polling places; increases transparency by requiring a reasonable public notice for voting changes; and allows the Attorney General authority to request federal observers to be present anywhere in the country where a serious threat to voter access and fair elections exists.
Democrats will not rest until all Americans in every community can enjoy their full, unrestricted right to have their voices heard at the ballot box. As we move forward, we ask for the continued leadership and partnership of America’s civil rights and community leaders, particularly the men and women of the National Urban League. Together, let us march forward to reassert the rights of all Americans and reaffirm the full promise of the just and vibrant democracy we deserve.