Padilla Celebrates Latino Activism in Speech Demanding Action to Protect Voting Rights

Padilla joins colleagues on Senate Floor in calling for passage of Freedom to Vote Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. ­­– Today, on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) delivered a speech on the floor of United States Senate celebrating the important work of Willie Velasquez, a voting rights leader who fought tirelessly to improve access to the ballot in Latino communities. Padilla’s speech called on his colleagues in the Senate to follow in Velasquez’ footsteps and pass the Freedom to Vote Act to secure every eligible American’s right to vote.

Earlier in the week, Padilla co-led the introduction of the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from relentless voter suppression attacks in state legislatures across the country. Padilla also joined voting rights advocates and other elected officials this week at the Declaration for American Democracy coalition’s rally in support for voting rights legislation.

Key Excerpts:

  • I rise today as we mark the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, to reflect on a historic leader whose work inspires me in the fight for voting rights, and the work we have before us. Willie Velasquez, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, dedicated his life to improving the freedom to vote in Latino communities. Everywhere he went, he brought a simple motto: “Su voto es su voz.” Your vote, your vote, is your voice.
  • In recent months, we’ve seen the latest challenge to the core of our democracy: scores of new laws proposed by Republican state legislatures to target the past five decades of gains in voting rights. Cynical politicians spreading false claims of voter fraud because they fear losing in a fair election.
  • Mr. President, it’s an honor to lead the Freedom to Vote Act alongside my colleagues, Senator Klobuchar, Senators Merkley, Warnock, Manchin, King, Tester, and Kaine. The Freedom to Vote Act will make it easier for all eligible citizens to register to vote and to cast their ballot. This bill will set a baseline of protections for voters across the country with commonsense, proven reforms that have already been successfully implemented in blue and red states across the country.
  • As the first Latino to represent California in this body, in the United States Senate, I’m proud to be spending this Hispanic Heritage Month fighting for voting rights.
  • The fight to expand voting rights is indeed part of our heritage. It’s also a tradition that unites Americans—because we have come together generation after generation to expand the promise of our democracy for all. Yes: We are strongest when every eligible voter can make their voice heard. Your vote is your voice. Su voto es su voz.

The full transcript of Padilla’s remarks as delivered below:

Padilla: Mr. President, I rise today as we mark the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, to reflect on a historic leader whose work inspires me in the fight for voting rights, and the work we have before us.

Willie Velasquez, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, dedicated his life to improving the freedom to vote in Latino communities.

Everywhere he went, he brought a simple motto: “Su voto es su voz.

Your vote, your vote, is your voice.

Willie Velasquez was born in 1944 and grew up in a Latino community in Texas, which suffered from the harms of segregation, redlining, and government neglect.

He understood that the path to greater recognition for Latinos was through participation in our democracy.

And so, Willie set out to make sure Latinos across the Southwest could participate.

In 1974, Willie Velasquez founded his groundbreaking organization, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

Through his efforts, Willie helped bring the vote—and a powerful voice—to many Latino communities.

Willie’s successes built on the hard-earned victories of past civil rights leaders.

Especially critical was Congress’s 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act, yes, a bipartisan reauthorization of the federal Voting Rights Act, which established protections for language minorities like Spanish speakers.

In just ten years, with Willie’s and other activists’ hard work on the ground, the number of Latinos registered to vote nearly doubled.

And in the same ten years, the number of Latinos holding elected office also nearly doubled.

That is the power of the freedom to vote—and the power of what we can do here in the Senate, here in Congress.

Give every American a voice in our democracy.

In his time, Willie fought to do exactly this—like generations of Americans, of all ages, colors, creeds, and genders that came before him.

Their efforts reflect a fundamental truth about our country: We are stronger when more Americans can vote.

We are stronger when all our communities have a say in government.

But the path to realizing our highest ideals has never been easy.

From a convention hall in Seneca Falls, to a bridge in Selma; from Willie’s home in San Antonio, Texas, to this very chamber, the voting rights victories of each generation have been hard-fought, and hard-won.

And it is no different today.

In recent months, we’ve seen the latest challenge to the core of our democracy: scores of new laws proposed by Republican state legislatures to target the past five decades of gains in voting rights. 

Cynical politicians spreading false claims of voter fraud because they fear losing in a fair election.

You can see the danger in my home state of California, where, just yesterday, we held a recall election.

Republicans ran a campaign of disinformation, spreading baseless claims of massive voter fraud before the polls even closed, before they even opened, and long before a single ballot was even counted.

It’s straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook—the same playbook that perpetuated the Big Lie and fueled domestic terrorism that the world witnessed on January 6.

And it’s no coincidence that these cynical claims of voter fraud are often targeted at communities of color.

In the face of these challenges, we must overcome, together, again.

We must renew the collective fight for our democracy.

It’s up to us – the time is now to get the job done.

Mr. President, it’s an honor to lead the Freedom to Vote Act alongside my colleagues, Senator Klobuchar, Senators Merkley, Warnock, Manchin, King, Tester, and Kaine.

The Freedom to Vote Act will make it easier for all eligible citizens to register to vote and to cast their ballot.

This bill will set a baseline of protections for voters across the country with commonsense, proven reforms that have already been successfully implemented in blue and red states across the country. 

I urge all of my colleagues to join us and vote to strengthen our democracy.

As the first Latino to represent California in this body, in the United States Senate, I’m proud to be spending this Hispanic Heritage Month fighting for voting rights.

Because so many of our community’s gains have been achieved through political participation and representation.

The fight to expand voting rights is indeed part of our heritage.

It’s also a tradition that unites Americans—because we have come together generation after generation to expand the promise of our democracy for all.

Yes: we are strongest when every eligible voter can make their voice heard.

Your vote is your voice.

Su voto es su voz.

Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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