WASHINGTON — Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) spoke on the House Floor this morning in support of the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. Below are excerpts from his remarks and a link to the video:

“…Mr. Speaker, on Monday we will mark what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ninety-third birthday.  When he was born in 1929, it had only been nine years – just nine years from the date of his birth – that women were given the opportunity to vote in America.  How sad that it took us so long.  When he was born in 1929, it had only been nine years since the Nineteenth Amendment had been passed, and it had only been sixty-four years since the amendments ending slavery and, ostensibly, guaranteeing the right to vote for African-Americans.  But that constitutional amendment was not honored, and ways and means were found to prevent people from voting and from registering.”

“The Supreme Court passed a decision in Shelby vs. Holder – Shelby in Alabama, a county that had discriminated greatly and was discriminating at that point in time.  And as soon as the Supreme Court said ‘this is no longer necessary,’ we saw a cascade of new laws to restrict access to the ballot box.  A cascade!  When Dr. King was born, neither African-American men nor African-American women could cast ballots and participate in our democracy in many states and jurisdictions – north and south.  Before he was killed, at just thirty-nine years of age, Dr. King led a movement to correct the injustices that had come about because, for so long, many Americans had no recourse to participate in our democracy or pursue opportunities equally, because their states felt they had the right to discriminate.  That’s what ‘states’ rights’ were in my generation.  And apparently, the concept still exists.”

“Dr. King, joined by other giants of the Civil Rights Movement, including our friend and brother, John Lewis, used the tools of nonviolent peaceful protests in organizing to expose the hypocrisy of a system that called itself a democracy but did not allow all of its citizens to share in electing leaders.  Each year on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Americans reflect on the lessons of his life and the Civil Rights Movement as though they formed a chapter in America’s past. Would that they mirrored simply the past, Mr. Speaker!  But if we look around us today, there can be no doubt the fight for our democracy is very much a part of our present.”

“When people get up and say, ‘oh, this bill can’t pass,’ the only reason it can’t pass is because the Minority will stop it – if they can.  I hope they can’t.  I hope [senators] change their rules.  I am an opponent of the filibuster.  It is undemocratic – and, as Hamilton said, it ‘poisons’ democracy.”

“The right to vote has not been so endangered since Dr. King walked among us.  But there is a remedy.  It’s not perfect.  But it will go a long way toward turning back the tide of voter suppression and protecting the fundamental right to vote – ‘One nation, under God, indivisible;’ all of us could vote.  The legislation incorporated into this bill represents the boldest and most consequential voting rights reforms in a generation.  I was the sponsor of the Help America Vote Act.  It was called then a very consequential bill.  It was not nearly as consequential as this bill will be in empowering every person eligible to vote.  And, by the way: every citizen, from my perspective, to vote – so there is no mischaracterization of my view.”

“I want to thank Chairman Nadler, Representative Sewell, Representative Sarbanes, Chairwoman Beatty, and the entire Congressional Black Caucus and literally hundreds of Members who, through the years, have fought to protect this sacred right.  In addition to providing for automatic, online, and same-day voter registration, the Freedom to Vote Act will make Election Day a federal holiday.  A holy day, if you will, in the pursuit of our secular commitment to democracy.  It will guarantee at least fifteen days of early voting.  Isn’t that terrible!  Well, it must be terrible because many states throughout the country are cutting those days down.  Why?  I don’t know.  If you vote on Tuesday as opposed to Thursday, is there more fraud involved?  I don’t know.  It will guarantee those days and two weekends while ending requirements for difficult-to-obtain photo ID.  It doesn’t eliminate ID.  If states have ID, it does not eliminate that.  Importantly, this legislation will restore voting rights to those who have paid their debts to society and it will ensure those who cast eligible ballots provisionally in the wrong precincts will still have their votes counted.  As the sponsor of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, that provision was in the federal law.  This bill would limit partisan gerrymandering and remove the corrosive influence of dark money.”

“When it comes to defending the integrity of our elections and our democracy, this legislation is absolutely needed in America.  Not only will it prohibit the removal of election officials without cause, which is happening because the [former] president calls up and says: ‘Can’t you find some more votes?’  That was the asking of some elected official, Secretary of State of Georgia, to commit a crime.  Talk about fraud in elections!  Also critical, this legislation will shore up the U.S. Election Assistance Commission created under the Help America Vote Act…It will enable the E.A.C. to provide state and local boards of election with grants to upgrade outdated voting equipment and protect against hackers and cyber threats.”

“Also restoring the full force of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was undermined by Shelby v. Holder, applying it to every state – not discrimination: if you break the law in any state, if you preclude people from legitimately voting in any state, you are covered under this legislation; we don’t pick out any actor, every state is included, we apply it to every state – and updating it for the twenty-first century, the Freedom to Vote Act has the power to restore trust that our elections are fair and every eligible voter will be able to participate.  House Democrats have passed voting rights measures multiple times this Congress, sending both H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 to the Senate.  The Majority’s for it, but the filibuster stops it.  The Minority controls the Majority.  Madison said that was not democracy.”

“Now the Senate must act.  I urge senators to come together on Monday and approve this historic voting rights legislation for our time.  We have the opportunity.  I share [Rep.] G.K. Butterfield’s sadness that John Lewis is not on this Floor to cast his vote.  Very frankly, I would have yielded all the time I have taken to John Lewis to talk to us about how important this legislation is and how many people gave their lives and their blood and their time and their talent to accomplish an America where no person would be shut out of the ballot box.”

“In future years, I hope people can celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by reflecting not only on how our country overcame Jim Crow in the 20th Century, but how we prevented its return in 2022.  We heard [from Republicans that] ‘this is not Jim Crow.’  No matter how subtle the discrimination may be, it is discrimination.  Cast your vote for this bill today, Ladies and Gentlemen, so our citizens can cast their votes without hindrance and share equally in the making of our laws and in the shaping of our future. Vote ‘yes.’”