Hawaiʻi Sen. Hirono compares wave of voter suppression bills to Reconstruction era
Following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) delivered remarks on the Senate floor discussing the urgent need to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation.
In her speech, Sen. Hirono said this MLK Jr. Day, instead of celebrating progress we’ve made in this country, we are fighting the same battle over voting rights.
Highlighting the parallels between the wave of voter suppression bills we’re seeing across the country today and the Reconstruction Era, Sen. Hirono said: “Our country’s legacy of racial discrimination in voting is undeniable, and it’s undeniable that we are witnessing history repeat itself today.”
She called out Republicans for refusing to even consider critical voting rights legislation.
“For Republicans, this fight isn’t about election security, it’s about securing their power, because Republicans have decided that spreading misinformation and rigging elections by preventing people from voting is the only way they will retain their power,” she said. “Let’s not pretend this is about the sanctity of the institution.”
Sen. Hirono also called on her Democratic colleagues to change the rules of the Senate in order to pass this critical legislation.
“While Republicans do nothing to protect our freedom to vote in the face of mass voter suppression bills enacted across the country, we Democrats cannot sit back and let 2020 be the last free and fair election in this country,” she said. “If we don’t protect the right to vote, we won’t have a democracy—it’s that simple, that’s the reality. Since Republicans will not lift a finger to protect voting rights we have no option but to change the Senate rules.”
To watch the remarks, click here.
Text of the remarks:
“In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “Give Us the Ballot,” address where he said, “The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.” But here we are, in 2022, fighting back against hundreds of bills introduced in states with the clear intention of making it harder for certain people to vote.
“Twenty-two states have already enacted 47 new laws that make it more difficult to vote by mail; make it harder to stay on voting lists; limit the availability of drop boxes for ballots; limit the number of polling locations; impose stricter or new voter ID requirements and the list goes on.
“One of the most insidious is Georgia’s law—which allows any person to challenge the rights of an unlimited number of voters to cast their ballot. If someone decides—for whatever reason—to challenge another person’s right to vote that voter then has to show up to their election office to defend themselves. Imagine being a single mom, working two jobs and unable to afford child care—and now you have to defend your constitutional right, just because someone thought you shouldn’t be voting. Volunteers are already being recruited to pose these challenges. This isn’t voter protection—this is vigilantism. These laws are clearly intended to target communities of color and make it harder for them to vote—period.
“Our country’s legacy of racial discrimination in voting is undeniable, and it’s undeniable that we are witnessing history repeat itself today. In 1890, the House passed historic legislation that would have increased voting protections, particularly for Black voters, but the Senate failed to take up this legislation, failed to act at a critical time when it had the chance, and the results were devastating for decades to come. The Senate’s failure to take up this legislation allowed Jim Crow—and the plummeting of voter turnout among Black voters—to continue for more than half a century until the Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965—over 70 years later.
“A recent Washington Post analysis said this current wave of voter suppression bills potentially amounts to, “the most sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction.” Today, these attacks on our freedom to vote are quite literally taking us back to the time of Reconstruction.
“We cannot wait another 70 years for this so-called deliberative body to act. Which is why we need to pass comprehensive voter protection legislation. But not a single Republican supports the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.
“Many of my Republican colleagues have joined Congressman John Lewis to commemorate the march from Selma to Montgomery, but today they won’t even allow the Senate to consider legislation named in his honor—and have called these bills ‘radical.’ There is nothing radical about protecting a person’s freedom to vote. What’s radical is sending us back to the days of Reconstruction.
“This legislation would restore and strengthen the VRA which Congress reauthorized with broad, bipartisan support five times in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992—and it passed 98-0 in 2006, which included ten sitting Senate Republicans.
“This bill would also expand opportunities to vote, prevent voter suppression, and improve election security. We’re talking about provisions that would require states to: offer early voting and no-excuse vote by mail; make Election Day a public holiday; crack down on voter intimidation; and require post-election audits. Again, I ask, how is any of this radical? What’s radical is justifying overt attacks on our democracy by perpetuating the Big Lie of mass voter fraud.
“For Republicans, this fight isn’t about election security, it’s about securing their power. Because Republicans have decided that spreading misinformation and rigging elections by preventing people from voting is the only way they will retain their power.
“Republicans should come to the Senate floor and tell the American people why they won’t protect our freedom to vote. Instead, the Republican Leader came to the floor to attack Democratic efforts to change Senate rules to pass this critical legislation calling it a power grab.
“The Republican Leader said that Democrats want to “permanently damage this institution.” He went on to say the filibuster is “about compromise and moderation.” This from the Republican leader who refers to himself as the grim reaper, as he prevents dozens of House passed bills from being considered on the Senate floor. The same person who single-handedly prevented President Obama from filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court for over a year denying the will of nearly 66 million Americans who voted to give President Obama a second term in office. The same person who pushed through President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee as over 159 million Americans were in the process of voting. So much for compromise and moderation.
“Let’s not pretend this is about the sanctity of the institution. We cannot sit back and let one political party continue to unravel the threads of our democracy, one voter suppression bill at a time. While Republicans do nothing to protect our freedom to vote in the face of mass voter suppression bills enacted across the country we Democrats cannot sit back and let 2020 be the last free and fair election in this country.
“If we don’t protect the right to vote, we won’t have a democracy—it’s that simple, that’s the reality. Since Republicans will not lift a finger to protect voting rights we have no option but to change the Senate rules.
“This is something that every single Democratic Senator needs to get on board with.
“Thank you, I yield the floor.”