Senator Leahy Schedules Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Right to Vote

Senate Press Office

May 13, 2008, Washington, DC – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has scheduled a hearing to examine the constitutional underpinnings of voting rights and to investigate obstacles that impede access to the ballot box for all Americans.

Several states are currently considering policies that could erect barriers between eligible voters and their constitutional right to vote.  Recent reports from the May 6 primary in Indiana, including reports that a nun who volunteered as a poll worker had to turn away her fellow sisters from the polls for lack of state-approved photo identification, have raised concerns on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that unnecessary obstacles will keep Americans from the voting booth in the November election.

Twenty states are also considering new laws to require proof of citizenship before granting voters access to the ballot box.

“Open and fair elections are fundamental to our democracy,” said Leahy.  “Every American citizen deserves to have their voice heard in their government.  It is the government’s responsibility to protect eligible voters from those partisans who seek to obstruct the path to ballot box for political gain.”

Last month, a fractured Supreme Court denied a facial challenge to a restrictive Indiana law requiring specific types of photo identification before eligible voters are allowed to cast their ballot.  In reaction to the Court’s decision failing to protect voters in Indiana, Leahy said, “the impact of the Court’s divided holding could embolden those partisans determined to use restrictive voter identification laws to elevate politics over fairness and inclusion.”

On May 2, Leahy and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey urging the Department of Justice to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and to ensure that photo identification requirements in Indiana and elsewhere complied with the Act.  Two years ago, Leahy and others worked to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, which paved the way for thousands of Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote.  Despite reauthorizing the Justice Department’s broad powers to prevent and punish voter disenfranchisement, there have been continued reports of race-based disparities in voter access, voter intimidation, and confusion.  The upcoming election will be a test of whether the constitutional right to vote is ensured for all Americans.

Among other witnesses, the following voting rights experts are expected to testify:  John Payton, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; Pam S. Karlan, Professor, Stanford Law School; and Jonah H. Goldman, Director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

The hearing, “Protecting the Constitutional Right to Vote for All Americans” will be held May 20, at 2:30 p.m. in room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

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