back row: Hilary Shelton, Mark Veasey, Ron Wyden, John Lewis; front row: Judy Chu, Terri Sewell, Ben Cardin (at podium)
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The Proclamation of September as Voting Rights Month is gaining steam, with 120 supporters in the House of Representatives and 20 in the Senate.
Today the co-sponsors to the resolution, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Mark Veasey (D-TX) organized a press conference in the Dirksen Senate building to speak about the resolution and about today, National Voter Registration Day, which has already become official.
A group of dedicated civil rights activists in Congress also spoke.
First up was Sen. Wyden, who praised his state's vote-by-mail system. "Voting ensures that our ideals are represented," he said. Other clauses of the resolution advocate reactivation of the Voting Rights Act's pivotal section 5, which requires preclearance of state- and local-level voting-related measures to be sure that none of them are discriminatory. "We must all stay engaged," said Wyden. Voter suppression is spreading throughout major parts of the country.
Wyden's PAVE (Protecting America's Votes and Elections Act of 2018) would amend the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to require paper ballots in all government-related voting venues and to mandate risk-limiting audits (RLA) after all elections where results are at all in question. HAVA already mandates paper ballots or paper trails, so how could this have been so misinterpreted as to have ushered in the DRE epidemic?
The voting machine lobby had much to gain then as it does now and Wyden said that it has lied in denying that its products contain remote-access software, when a good number of them do. Remote-access software enables connection from the Internet to voting equipment--making invasion by domestic and foreign hackers easy.
Wyden joked that his mother always told him as a child to choose good company and said that being in this group of colleagues today accomplishes just that.
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA),is a heroic survivor of Bloody Sunday in Selma as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fought to cross the city's Edmund Pettus Bridge, the beginning of the historic March to Montgomery. Lewis was nearly killed by police brutality and hasn't stopped fighting for civil rights since then.
"We need to get into good, necessary trouble," he said--words that subsequent speakers echoed. The rich don't believe in a true and just democracy, but nothing can stop the power of the people. The vote is the most precious, sacred, powerful, and nonviolent tool in democracy. We must vote like never before. We've made lots of progress and are not turning back.
We're one people, one family, and share one house, the United States.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), next to speak, said that he came to Congress the same year as Rep. Lewis. 2016 proved that voting matters. Now people want to get involved. We're under attack from enemies outside the country and from within. Voting shouldn't be a partisan matter.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the first Chinese American member of Congress, recalled that the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect for 60 years. People of every background share the right to vote. Translators are needed at the polls to be sure that all can vote.
Hillary Shelton, the director of the Washington bureau of the NAACP said that his organization was the oldest civil rights advocacy group in the country. The proclamation of September as National Voting Rights Month is essential. We must make voting easier: Arrive with Five is one way--that is, when you go to vote, bring five others with you and make sure they vote. All should participate in this sort of program.
Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), whose district is the historic Selma, Alabama, reiterated Rep. Lewis's call to get into good trouble. Our vote is our voice, she said. We need to restore the checks and balances essential to democracy. The executive branch is overweight.
In Alabama there is no early voting or vote-by-mail, she said. There is only Election Day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We must take our democracy back. Sewell referred to a bill she authored, the National Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would revive federal-level preclearance of all states and localities' election-related measures they are considering. We must have Souls to the Polls all over the country (vans from churches driving congregants to vote on the Sunday before Election Day). We owe it to those who sacrificed so much. Democracy must live on.