House Democratic Leaders Urge President to Protect Minority Voting Rights

Oct 31, 2006
Press Release

House Democratic Leaders Urge President to Protect Minority Voting Rights

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Contact: Brendan Daly/Jennifer Crider, 202-226-7616

Washington, D.C. â€" House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and House Democratic Caucus Chair James E. Clyburn sent a letter to President Bush today urging him to direct the Justice Department to take steps to ensure minority voting rights are protected. In the letter the leaders wrote: “Today, we request that you direct the Justice Department to take immediate action to ensure that all jurisdictions comply fully with all statutes designed to protect minority voting rights and to ensure that all eligible voters can vote.”

Below is the text of the letter:

October 31, 2006

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

A week from today, Americans will proudly cast votes and perform one of their most critical civic responsibilities. Our democracy depends on protecting the right of every American citizen to vote in every election. As the Supreme Court has noted, “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the law.”

Together, we reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to securing the right to vote with the recent reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Since its original passage more than 40 years ago, the Voting Rights Act has guaranteed millions of Americans an equal opportunity to participate in the American electoral process.

Yet, one week before the 2006 Congressional midterm elections, many Americans are still concerned their voices will not be heard and their votes not counted. That concern is more than justified. News reports today, for instance, discuss problems with absentee ballots in Maryland and Ohio; those reports raise the question of whether absentee ballot strategies are being used to suppress the vote.

The elections of 2000 and 2004, with unmistakable evidence of voter suppression of minorities, had uncomfortable echoes to a past that should have been long left behind. In fact, in the 2004 elections, voters in predominantly minority districts reported higher rates of inactive voter registrations, a greater percentage of inadequately staffed and equipped polling places, and sometimes even a lack of an adequate number of ballots.

Unfortunately, efforts used to deny qualified minority citizens the right to vote continue. Recently, the campaign of a Republican nominee for a Congressional seat in California engaged in a voter suppression effort against Latino voters by sending 14,000 misleading letters threatening them with imprisonment. These activities violated federal and state voting laws. They are not isolated; they are reminiscent of earlier efforts in 2004 of fliers targeted at African American voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin providing false information about voting regulations or times.

The intent is clear: to deny minority citizens their hard-fought and inalienable right to vote. We must, instead, honor the principles of our democracy. Let this election be a contest of ideas, not disenfranishment of minority voters or politically engineered obstacles to voting.

Today, we request that you direct the Justice Department to take immediate action to ensure that all jurisdictions comply fully with all statutes designed to protect minority voting rights and to ensure that all eligible voters can vote. The Justice Department has a special responsibility and obligation to help people fulfill their right to participate in their government. Specifically, we call for the following:

  • The Justice Department must end its politicization of voting rights enforcement. In recent years, political appointees in the Justice Department have injected partisan bias into the Department's Voting Rights Act decisions, repeatedly overruling the non-partisan legal staff and hiring ideologues with no experience in civil rights for career vacancies.[1]
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  • The Justice Department must act to prevent attempts by partisan operatives to purge voters from the rolls based on undelivered mail and other criteria not allowed by law.[2] The Justice Department should prevent efforts to disenfranchise voters at the polls through systematic challenges and challenges targeted at African American, Latino, Native American and/or Asian Pacific voters. It should also make clear to campaign and political party operatives and their agents that they must not spread false information targeted at minority voters about voting locations, voting times, and voting regulations.
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  • The Justice Department should instruct jurisdictions that inequitable distribution of machines and ballots as a politically engineered tool to limit votes or frustrate voters will not be permitted.[3] We must ensure the equitable, timely, and ample distribution of ballots, provisional ballots, and voting machines. It is also vital that state election officials issue clear and timely guidance for the counting of provisional ballots.
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  • The Justice Department should ensure that jurisdictions comply with existing federal law to provide language assistance for ballots and voting procedures, and proper assistance for individuals with disabilities.
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In America, the right to vote must never be compromised. We hope that you will join us in this effort to protect the right to vote. Nonetheless, we will exhaust every effort to ensure that every eligible voter has an equal opportunity to participate in the upcoming elections.

Sincerely,

Nancy Pelosi
House Democratic Leader

Steny Hoyer
House Democratic Whip

Congressman James E. Clyburn
Chairman
House Democratic Caucus