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Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) Defends Voting Rights

On January 19, 2022, US Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor defending the sacred right to vote. Senator Luján made a passionate case in support of the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act and urged the Senate to meet this moment by reforming the filibuster to pass this legislation. Video of the speech is available.* Here is a partial transcript of his speech:

“I want to start by thanking all of the Senators who have come to the floor to make the case for democracy and voting rights. The right to vote is the heartbeat of our democracy, a symbol of the progress we have made in this chamber, and the promise we have made to the next generation of Americans.

“This legislation will protect the right to vote for all, safeguard against election sabotage, end partisan gerrymandering, and limit the influence of dark money in politics so that billionaires and corporations cannot buy elections.

“Protecting our democracy should not be partisan. It should be a moral and civic imperative for every one of us.

“As Dennis Chávez said, ‘Either we are all free, or we fail; democracy must belong to all of us.’

“Our democracy faces clear and present dangers… History will not look kindly on inaction at this critical moment. We must show the American people that we will not flinch when faced with the choice to protect our Democracy or let it crumble before our eyes.

“There is a pattern of rampant discrimination that is disenfranchising countless Black and Brown voters across this country.

“In 2005, Jesus Gonzalez became a naturalized citizen. On the same day he swore an oath to the United States, he sought to register to vote in Arizona. He was rejected. He tried again when he obtained a license. But again, he was rejected.

“It was then that Mr. Gonzalez, a school janitor, sued the state. His case made its way to the Supreme Court who in 2013, ruled in his favor and struck down Arizona’s law. Mr. Gonzalez was one of 31,000 voters in Arizona affected by such a discriminatory law.

“Just this past September, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund joined other civil rights organizations in suing Texas over discriminatory voting legislation, known as SB1. Among other things, SB1 seeks to curb the assistance available to limited English-proficient voters.

“And in 2006, MALDEF successfully sued Texas after the state Legislature sought to dilute the Latino vote. In that case, LULAC v. Perry, the Supreme Court found that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act by denying Latinos the ability to elect a candidate of their choosing. In 2017, MALDEF again sued in Texas after the City of Pasadena sought to weaken the Latino vote by changing the way the city elected city council members.

“We also know that the voter suppression of Native Americans is real… Until 2020, North Dakota voter ID laws required a residential street address. Many Native Americans, like Richard Brakebill, a Navy veteran, have been denied the right to vote because of an expired driver’s license and a Tribal ID that did not have a current residential address, [but only a] post office box… often the only form of address rural Native American households can obtain.

“South Dakota provided a fully funded polling place and early voting and registration opportunities to the 12 non-Native American residents in Gann Valley, but refused to provide the same services to the 1,200 plus residents in Fort Thompson on Crow Creek Tribal lands.

“In 2021, Kimberly Dillon, citizen of Rosebud Sioux Tribe, joined the Oglala and Rosebud Sioux Tribes in suing South Dakota for requiring voters to register at state agencies and DMVs, which are hours away from Tribal lands.

“Many Native Americans like Kimberly went to great lengths to submit their voter registration applications to those state agencies, but the agencies never sent them to local election offices.

“We are losing honest election officials and poll workers because of threats against their lives due to conspiracy theories and lies… The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act will protect the vote of working families across the country.

“And only one archaic parliamentary measure prohibits all this progress: the filibuster. The filibuster does not increase deliberation in this chamber; it does not incentivize compromise. It stands in the way of progress.

“So, while some claim that amending the filibuster would further this country’s division: I disagree. Right now, it is only aiding and abetting obstructionists and opponents of progress – when it comes to voting and civil rights legislation.

“While the filibuster is not mentioned a single time in the Constitution, it is too often abused in the Senate. Senators don’t even need to come to and hold the Senate floor to block debate. It lets folks hide in the shadows.

“And according to historians, between 1917 and 1994, 30 measures favored by the sitting president and simple majorities in the House and Senate – half of which addressed civil rights – died in the Senate, thanks to the filibuster. Not until 1964 did the Senate successfully overcome a filibuster to pass a major civil rights bill.

“History should act as a teacher to all of us, and history will remind us who voted today on the side of the people.

“I am proud this effort includes my Native American Voting Rights Act, which will ensure Tribes, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and voters living on Tribal lands have equal access to the electoral process.

“Access to the ballot box is the cornerstone of our democratic system, and without equitable access to it, we cannot stand on the world stage and claim that we are leaders in the fight for liberty and justice for all.”