Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, gave an impassioned plea for protecting voting rights on Wednesday, saying that his mother told him on her deathbed to protect the franchise.
During a committee hearing on the For The People Act, a bill introduced by Democrats that includes numerous voting and ethics reforms, Cummings read from a 2016 court ruling that struck down a North Carolina voting law containing a wide range of restrictions. The law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found, targeted African-Americans ”with almost surgical precision.”
Cummings said that ruling struck a chord with him because a year ago, on her deathbed, his 92-year-old mother told him not to let anyone block the right to vote.
“On my mother’s dying bed, 92 years old, former sharecropper, her last words were, ‘Do not let them take our votes away from us,’” he said, his voice rising. “She had fought and seen people harmed, beaten, trying to vote. Talk about inalienable rights. Voting is crucial. And I don’t give a damn how you look at it: There are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right. This is not Russia. This is the United States of America.”
Democrats have made voting rights a priority since taking control of the House last month. Including a dramatic expansion of voting rights in H.R. 1, the first piece of legislation filed this session, is meant to send a signal as to how important the issue is to the party. (Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has already dismissed the bill.) A separate House subcommittee is charged with building a record of voter suppression across the country that can be used to justify reimplementing one of the most powerful provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also emphasized the importance of voting rights in the Democratic response to the State of the Union address Tuesday evening.
Cummings called voting the “essence of our democracy” on Wednesday.
“I will fight until the death to make sure every citizen, whether they’re Green Party, whether they’re Freedom Party, whether they’re Democrat, whether they’re Republican ― whoever has that right to vote,” he said.
Later on in the hearing, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) took issue with Cummings’ comments and accused the Democratic chairman of suggesting Republicans were the only ones that commit voter fraud. Hice pointed to accusations in Texas that 95,000 noncitizens had gotten on the voter rolls, though Texas officials have quietly conceded over the last week that number is inflated.
Cummings said Hice was misinterpreting his comment.
“I didn’t say that. I quoted the court and I did not just blame Republicans or anybody. I was trying to make it clear that it has been made far [more] difficult for people who look like me to be able to vote. Period,” he said. “We all need to be addressing that.”
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