Thank you Madame Speaker. On the eve of the reauthorization of the Voter Rights Act, I come to the Floor to say that the dream of full participation by all Americans has yet to be fulfilled. And in fact, even at the dawn of a new Century, Black voters are still confronted with a concerted effort to deny their right to vote when it is politically necessary and expedient to do so.
We can start with the fiasco that brought the current Administration to power: the Florida vote of 2000. First of all, in testimony from African American voters in Florida outright voter intimidation is documented dozens of cases.
You know, the passage of time is a wonderful thing. It makes wine taste better; it makes women look better; it makes us long for the days of good music—however we define good music. The older songs always seem best. So, too, it is with information. For with the passage of time, truth crushed to the earth, rises. The ashes of the phoenix rise. And as a result of a town hall meeting that I organized in Georgia, bringing in the Vice President of Choicepoint, the company hired by the Florida Board of Elections—under the control of the then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris—we now know that Choicepoint was asked to provide an incorrect list of supposed convicted felons who would be denied the right to vote in Florida. Only thing is that the list compiled by Choicepoint imported data from several states—Ohio, New Jersey, and Texas. Now, Voinovich was the Republican governor of Ohio, Christy Todd Whitman was the Governor of New Jersey, and George W. Bush--our current President—was the Governor of Texas. Now, the interesting thing about this list is that the Texas list that was given by the State of Texas to Katherine Harris in Florida was not a list of convicted felons. The Texas list was a list of misdemeanors, thereby enlarging the number of entrants on the Choicepoint list destined for Florida.
Now, why was this important? Because the method of disfranchisement in Florida was to deny people the right to vote based on fictitious felony conviction records. And since Katherine Harris had told Choicepoint that she only wanted an 80% match, an example is that John Smythe who had committed a misdemeanor, say in Texas, became John Smith, a convicted felon in Florida. The list was labeled by race and so the folks down in Florida knew who would be denied the right to vote before the voting even started. As a result, Choicepoint presented a list of about 90,000 so-called convicted felons whose only crime was being registered to vote in a battleground state whose leaders were willing to commit crimes in order to deny black people the right to vote. And I'm sorry that the Democrats didn't fight this gross travesty of justice carried out against black voters.
Now, there will be folks who will say that we don't need a Voting Rights Act any more. If you asked George Wallace or George Maddox, or for that matter, Strom Thurmond and the like, if we needed a Voting Rights Act, I'm sure they too would have said no. But if that gross disfranchisement scheme could happen in 2000, it means that the right to vote and the right to representation are still precious—so precious that we have to have laws in place to protect those who will not respect the rights of their fellow Americans.
Then in 2002, we learned that crossover voting can be used as effectively as the all-white primaries were to deny African American voters their right to choose their representatives. I'm glad to know that Bennie Thompson, from Mississippi, has filed a lawsuit against Mississippi's open primary. We need to rid the South of open primaries because as in my state, they were enacted in the days when the lips of staunch segregationists dripped with the words of interposition and nullification.
The advent of the electronic voting machines offers another peril to the voting rights of all Americans who use them. In my own district, these machines broke down, burned out, froze screens, and cast votes for the candidate not intended by the voter. In Georgia, our machines are equipped with a wireless capability. That means a treo properly outfitted, can change the outcome of an election just by entering into the signal space of a voting machine.
And speaking of voting machines, the allocation of those machines is also done to manipulate the outcome. Who wants to wait 5 hours in line in the rain to vote? Thousands of voters in Ohio had to do that and it just so happened that they were black. Scholars and researchers have done the math. Voting machines were allocated not by the number of registered voters by precinct, but by some other calculation. How could majority black precincts in Columbus, Ohio have 3,4, or 5 machines and have over a thousand voters in their precincts, and mostly Republican precincts in say, Dublin, OH had the same number of machines for one third the number of voters?
This pattern of devaluing and marginalizing the black vote was seen again in the recent Mayoral election in New Orleans. Here it was not Republicans, but a conservative Democratic Governor who blocked efforts to provide electronic polling stations to enable hundreds of thousands of mostly Black Katrina survivors the chance to vote. It was among the largest instance of African-American voter disfranchisement since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Since no action has been taken by the Federal Government to prevent any of these abuses, we can expect more of the same. In addition, in the coming Fall election we will see the introduction of electronic poll-books, which are untested and non-transparent. Governor Ehrlich of Maryland, a Republican, has deemed this new addition to the voting experience to be unreliable.
So Mr. Speaker, who cares?
We care. And that's why we need a voting rights act. Not to tarry in the days of the past, but to protect us from encroachments on the right to vote that occur today and that might be tried tomorrow.