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Statement of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to the Armed Services Committee Military Personnel Subcommittee Hearing on Voting Rights


Statement of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
Armed Services Committee
Military Personnel Subcommittee
Hearing on Voting Rights

May 9, 2001

Protecting the Voting Rights of our Men and Women in Uniform

Mr. Chairman:

This is a very important hearing. Attempts to address unfairness in military voting began during the Eisenhower Administration, but Congress still has work to do to solve the problem. It is unfortunate that it has taken the lost opportunities of so many voters to cause notice of this problem, but hopefully, this hearing will begin to address and correct the remaining obstacles that military voters face.

Anytime the importance of the vote is diminished, we have a problem. We have a problem because in our Republic there is nothing more precious than the right to vote. On election day there is no black or white. There is no rich or poor. There exists no difference between uniformed or civilian. We are all equal as we cast our votes.

However, if in the process of attempting to cast our votes, selected populations are subjected to police intervention; if votes are purged due to a lack of postmarks; if voters have to endure long and unruly lines, unprepared staff, under equipped voting places, buildings too small to accommodate the voting crowd, broken machines; or voter lists that are rigged, as the private company Choicepoint now readily admits happened in Florida; if votes are somehow lost in the mail; then we have a serious problem and the quality of our democracy is open to ridicule by others.

If, after one has withstood tremendous indignities just to cast the vote, that vote is then thrown out, then the value of our democracy equals that thrown away ballot.

As the Florida debacle unfolded for all the world to see, America became a laughing stock. Autocrats and dictators around the world offered election advisors. And worse, at least one offered to pay the Carter Center to come in and monitor our own elections.

Adding fuel to the fire, President Carter recently stated that the U.S. election process is so bad, it wouldn't even pass muster to qualify for Carter Center observers. What happened in Florida, particularly to voters of color, is criminal and the NAACP has rightly filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida for its transgression. A lawsuit has been filed in Georgia and the record suggests that what happened in Tennessee and Georgia was at least as bad as what happened in Florida. And in some cases their experiences were worse.

We must not lose our focus. It is clear that in Florida there was purposeful manipulation of the votes that were cast, and an effort to impede the ability of voters to actually cast their vote. Nothing short of state-sanctioned voter fraud took place in Florida. Minorities were victimized directly by the circus that ensued. However, the spillover affected everyone who wanted to vote in Florida, and everyone who actually voted in Florida; and the manipulation cost all of us the imprimatur of a free, fair, and transparent election for the highest office in our land.

We can do better and we must, or else the loss of confidence in the election system of our country will be reflected not in the suites, but in the streets, because Americans will not tolerate the clock being turned back on fundamental voting rights won through bloodshed and struggle.

In addition, the loss of prestige around the world--that we can talk the talk, but we can't walk the walk on free and fair and transparent elections--is incalculable.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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