Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) Leads Colleagues in a Letter to the President Calling for Investigation into Voter Suppression
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Terri A. Sewell (D-AL), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) led the effort to send a letter to the President calling for an investigation into voter suppression and disenfranchisement, including the possible impact of new restrictive state voter ID laws, as part of any investigation he conducts on voting. The letter was joined by 76 Members of Congress.
“I will continue to stand with my colleagues at the forefront of the modern-day fight against voter suppression. Voting rights are as relevant today as it was 51 years ago as we witness challenges to state voter ID laws in cases in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas, resulting in federal court decisions that such laws have specifically targeted certain minority groups to suppress their vote. It is critically important that we protect the integrity of our democracy and restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Rep. Sewell.
The full text of the letter reads as follows:
Dear President Trump:
We write regarding your recent call for an investigation into alleged voter fraud in the 2016 Presidential election. As an initial matter, claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 Presidential election are largely unsubstantiated. Inquiries conducted thus far have not revealed any evidence of widespread voter fraud, nor is there is evidence substantiating your claim that “3 to 5 million illegal votes” were responsible for Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win. Nevertheless, we are writing to demand that any investigation your Administration conducts into voter irregularities in the 2016 Presidential election include a thorough investigation and analysis of voter suppression and disenfranchisement.
Our nation’s history on voting rights is checkered, and the systemic disenfranchisement of low-income and minority voters is longstanding and well documented. In fact, it was not until 600 people marched through Selma, Alabama in 1965 that Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. It is now 52 years later and the battle is far from over.
In 2013, the Supreme Court effectively dismantled the Voting Rights Act when it struck down a section of the law that required jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination to receive “preclearance” before changing their voting laws. The result is 14 new state laws implementing voting restrictions that went into effect for the first time in 2016. These new laws include roadblocks such as strict photo ID requirements, early voting cutbacks, and registration restrictions. Three states with new voter restrictions—Florida, North Carolina, and Alabama—have demonstrated histories of voter disenfranchisement and were monitored by the Department of Justice for illegal electioneering. The breadth of the disenfranchisement caused by statewide voting restrictions is personified in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida.
- Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law has been the subject of extensive litigation. Although a federal court held that the law unconstitutionally burdened low-income individuals and minorities, the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect for the 2016 election. According to Wisconsin’s records, as many as 300,000 people lacked the proper ID and may have been prevented from voting. Statewide, turnout for the 2016 Presidential election was the lowest in two decades.
- North Carolina’s law included strict voter ID requirements, eliminated same-day voter registration, cut a full week of early voting, and barred voters from casting a ballot outside their home precincts. A federal court struck most of the law after finding it suppressed African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.” Despite this ruling, early voting hours and locations were curtailed during the 2016 Presidential election. African-American turnout for the early vote dropped nearly nine percent.
- Florida law bars anyone with a felony conviction from voting unless they travel to the state capital and request clemency—a burdensome requirement for those that cannot afford to travel to the state capital. Approximately 1.5 million Florida residents are unable to vote because of the law, and approximately 25 percent of Florida’s African-American residents could not cast a ballot in the 2016 Presidential election.
In addition to passing harsh laws, states like Alabama are closing driver’s license offices in rural areas with large African-American populations, while states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida are moving polling places out of largely minority districts. Incidents of voter intimidation have also occurred, like the one in Sparta, Georgia, when more than 180 African-American citizens were confronted by law enforcement officers that were dispatched by the local election board. These citizens, all American voters, were told they had to appear in person in order to prove they were a resident and could vote in upcoming elections.
This is unacceptable. Every American deserves a voice in our elections and the freedom to cast their vote without interference. These restrictive laws and intimidation tactics make clear that it is time to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act and counter voter disenfranchisement. We hope to work together with you to remedy widespread voter disenfranchisement across our country.