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Hoyer: We Must Do Everything in our Power to Ensure that People With Disabilities Can Participate Fully in our Democracy

“I rise in support of this legislation.  I was the sponsor of [the Help America Vote Act - HAVA].  Republicans were in charge, and I worked very closely with my friend Bob Ney on HAVA.  It was legislation that was called by the Washington Post the greatest reform legislation in twenty-five years since the civil rights bill.  That may have been some hyperbole, but it was a good bill.

“This bill corrects, essentially, a fault that we made in terms of its inclusiveness.  The bill before us concerns two critical objectives that have been central to my work here in the House. The first is ensuring those with disabilities have equal access to the same opportunities as their fellow Americans.  On the 26th of July, we celebrated the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush, a very bipartisan piece legislation that's made a historical difference.  The second is ensuring all eligible voters in America have access to the ballot box and can make their voices heard in our democracy.  That is, after all, what our democracy is about.

“The PAVA Program Inclusion Act helps accomplish both of those goals, and that’s why I’m proud to bring it to the Floor today.  Specifically, this bill would improve access to the ballot for Americans with disabilities who live in the Northern Mariana Islands – clearly, we wanted those included – and on Native American tribal lands in the Four Corners region of the Southwest, which also we expected we had done.  This bill expands key programs first laid out in the Help America Vote Act, known as HAVA, that provided funding to regional protection and advocacy systems to assist people with disabilities in the voting process.  Although HAVA intended to provide funding for this important purpose to all P&A systems across the country, a technical oversight, as has been mentioned, led to the exclusion of these two regions.  Today's legislation would correct that error and help us realize HAVA's original vision.

“I was proud to serve as the principal House sponsor, as I said, of HAVA, back in 2002, along with Bob Ney, who was the Republican Chair of the House Administration Committee and a very good friend of mine.  We prepare to celebrate its twentieth anniversary [next] month.  I'm glad to see that the groundbreaking law continues to evolve and be strengthened by Congress.

“HAVA was based on the principle that the integrity of our democracy depends on the accessibility and accuracy of our electoral system.  I brought together a bipartisan coalition to enact that legislation in order to establish a number of commonsense policies that make voting easier and more secure.  From reliable voting equipment to expanded provisional ballot access, HAVA and the bipartisan Election Assistance Commission – which I strongly support and am glad to see we're investing in to make our federal participation more broad and more effective – today's bill reminds us, however, that HAVA must continue to adapt to new needs and challenges. 

“I very much appreciate the efforts of Chair Zoe Lofgren, the Gentlelady from California, who has worked so hard on voting rights issues as head of the House Administration Committee, and I thank the Ranking Member, Mr. Davis, as well.  I want to thank Senator Lujan, our former House colleague, for authoring this bill and advancing it through the Senate.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure that people with disabilities, especially those from historically marginalized groups such as Native American and Pacific Islanders, can participate fully in our democracy.  That’s why I ask all of my colleagues to vote ‘yes.’”