Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
at the
Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Symposium

Washington, D.C.
October 4, 2005 - 12:00 PM

Thank you and good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am pleased that I could spend a few minutes with you at this important training seminar.

With more than 100,000 employees, it's easy for me to lose track of who I've met and who I've yet to meet in the Department. But I am fairly certain that for many of you, this is my first chance to thank you personally for your hard work.

You are vital to this Department – and to our Nation. The President and I appreciate your constant dedication – and so do the American people.

Our fellow citizens expect a great deal from the Department of Justice, and the heavy weight of this public service falls on your capable shoulders.

I realize that many – probably all – of you could earn more money working in the private sector. But you have chosen to answer the call of public service, and I commend and appreciate your selfless dedication. I also understand that it does not come without other sacrifices – it's not just about the money. Your work often demands long hours and difficult choices, which can translate into time away from family. In fact, many of you have probably left families at home to be here in Washington this week. But I also know that you share with them – and they with you – the personal rewards of this demanding job.

Your families understand that the work we do at the Department is critical to this great Nation. We have a very important responsibility to the American people. And your role in delivering on our promise to protect the linchpin of our democracy – the right to vote – is a large part of that. So, again, thank you for confronting the challenges associated with this necessary – and hopefully rewarding – work.

Our President understands the majestic powers of the presidency to do great things, to improve the lives of every American.

As the former owner of a Major League Baseball team, the President is a baseball guy – so he has told members of his Cabinet to play "big ball," to go for the big inning. With the postseason beginning today, there will be a lot of that in the coming weeks.

It's a good reminder that we at the Department must strive for the same goal, and it is my intention to do just that. I want to use the power of this Department – and the cause of justice – to achieve lasting progress in all of our work. That includes, of course, our efforts to protect the vital elements of our free and democratic elections. And that's exactly what we're doing.

As a Department, we are driven by the need to protect America against future acts of terrorism, to make our neighborhoods safe, to provide greater opportunities for our children, and give hope to every American citizen. And as we complete this work, we are doing so in a way that is consistent with our enduring values and the rule of law.

I believe that the role of the Justice Department in pursuing a bold agenda is more important today than ever. We have a solemn duty to help provide justice for all, to help enforce the rule of law, and to help protect the lives and preserve the liberties of all Americans.

And what is one of the fundamental elements behind those principles, behind these noble pursuits? The right to vote. The right to vote is preservative of all the other rights.

When he signed the Voting Rights Act back in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said that, quote, "the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice."

He could not have been more right. And that's why we strive today to give every single American a voice in our democracy.

Several months ago, I had the privilege of participating in a naturalization ceremony for new citizens. I told this group of proud American immigrants that citizenship comes with the special responsibility to participate in our shared democracy. It gave me a great deal of pride to know that – on account of your work – the Department of Justice is helping not only to provide these new citizens with the chance to vote, but also is working hard to continue to ensure that their right to vote is protected.

The faces of those who raised their hands and took the oath of citizenship that day served as a good reminder that it has not always been so in our Nation's history. In the past, some Americans have struggled to have their voices heard – and their votes counted on Election Day.

We must never forget that for hundreds of years things were very different for people who looked like many of us here in this room. The journey to suffrage has not been an easy one.

Many of us remember the horrifying scene atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama more than forty years ago. Brave – and peaceful – citizens, demanding the full right to vote, were met by billy clubs, tear gas, and the bruising reality of racial violence. They were turned away, but not deterred.

Their movement continued and the Voting Rights Act was passed just five months after six hundred determined African Americans, marching outside of Selma, faced down a history of systematic disenfranchisement.

We cannot erase a history of poll taxes, literacy tests, violence, and overt discrimination at the voting booth. But we can make a promise to this and future generations: Never again. Not on our watch.

The very fiber of our Nation rests with the zealous protection of certain inalienable rights for every citizen – and we cannot grow complacent in the safeguarding of those rights.

You are making good on that promise every single day by enforcing the laws that prevent election fraud and preserve voting rights.

Those are the two separate but equally important law enforcement responsibilities for the Department in this area. First, we must ensure that all qualified voters have access to the ballot box. Second, we must preserve the integrity of the overall election process. You've probably heard this a hundred times, but it bears repeating: Our goal is to make voting easier and cheating harder.

That sounds simple but I know that it requires a great deal of hard work by you and your colleagues. As prosecutors and investigators, you are on the front lines battling those who would corrupt our election process and corrode our democratic system.

The results speak for themselves; you're getting the job done and we are making progress.

Since Attorney General John Ashcroft created the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative three years ago, we've made enforcement of election fraud and corruption offenses a top priority – in addition to other efforts such as expanding the Election Day Program, improving our coordination with state and local partners, and holding this training seminar.

In that time, we've investigated nearly two hundred election fraud matters, charged more than ninety individuals with offenses, and secured more than fifty convictions.

On Election Day 2004, the Civil Rights Division deployed more than 1,000 people to monitor elections in 25 states. And since the beginning of this Administration, that Division has undertaken unprecedented enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, including filing more cases under the language minority provisions of the Act than had been filed in the past two decades.

I know that you've had a number of significant and noteworthy successes. Your recent work on behalf of Spanish, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese-speaking voters in Boston; Osceola County, Florida; San Diego; Odessa, Texas; Houston; and throughout the Los Angeles area has made a meaningful difference in the lives of so many citizens. In addition, you've completed historic work in Mississippi, which, along with so many other cases, has shown that the right to vote in America will be protected no matter how or where it comes under attack.

Every prosecution, settlement, or other public resolution puts would-be wrong doers on notice: We will not tolerate the infringement of voting rights.

I know you're familiar with the numbers, statistics, and records. There are a lot of them. But the true measure of this work comes in human terms. It's impossible to quantify the amount of freedom you've protected in one year…or calculate the raw data of rights and liberties.

The stories tell the tale: immigrants voting for the first time, Spanish-speaking voters participating in their native language, disabled and elderly voters given the dignity of accessible polling stations, Americans of every background exercising their rights. Their inspiration is ours as well.

Of course, there are horror stories, too. You know them from cases and accusations, witness accounts and monitor reports. Voters turned away from their proper polling places. Confusing or misleading signs and instructions. Vote buying, voter suppression, and voter intimidation. Even the occasional decedent registering to vote or pulling a lever on Election Day.

I realize that these are the exceptions, the extremes. But I share your belief that just one instance of fraud or one citizen who cannot vote, or is deterred from voting…is too many. Our work continues until every qualified citizen in every community in America has an equal chance to vote – and to have that vote count.

We've been successful over the past several years, but we cannot rest long on past accomplishments. We must continue to strive for further excellence as we protect the valuable freedoms we hold dear as a Nation.

Today, we stand guard over a system that has provided hope and opportunity to generations of Americans. As our pursuit of voting rights and protection against election fraud has evolved, so too has our commitment to the founding values of our country: liberty, equality, and justice for all.

This Nation stands for the highest ideals of personal freedom. I am proud to serve alongside each of you and all of the fine men and women at this Department who share these ideals and values and work hard to preserve them for every American.

Thank you again for your service.