State Voter ID Laws and Redistricting for Voting Rights Act Violations:
Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a message focused on upholding the Voting Rights Act at the President Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum at the University of Texas on December 13, 2011. Attorney General Holder recalled the civil rights achievements of President Johnson including the historic Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 that protects the rights of voters to have access to voting free of any forms of discrimination.
“In 1965, when President Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act into law, he proclaimed that, “the right to vote is the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.”
The Attorney General said:
“Today, as Attorney General, I have the privilege – and the solemn duty – of enforcing this law, and the other civil rights reforms that President Johnson championed…The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government – it is the lifeblood of our democracy. And no force has proved more powerful – or more integral to the success of the great American experiment – than efforts to expand the franchise.”
Holder heard from many people across the United States who were deeply concerned about the the need to protect the voting rights of all citizens. He relayed excerpts of a recent speech by Congressman John Lewis, man who has worked his whole life and who continues to work for voting rights:
Congressman Lewis said on the House floor this past summer that the voting rights of U.S. citizens are “under attack…[by] a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
Holder said the Department of Justice is currently reviewing new laws passed in various states based on the DOJ’s obligation under the Voting Rights Act. Holder said, “Texas and South Carolina, for example, have enacted laws establishing new photo identification requirements that we’re reviewing. We’re also examining a number of changes that Florida has made to its electoral process, including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, as well as changes to early voting procedures, including the number of days in the early period.”
According to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department reviews laws passed in various states to prevent violation of the Voting Rights Act. Holder said this important Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act helps combat discrimination and was put into the law due to “well-documented history of voter discrimination in all or parts of the 16 states to which it applies.”
Attorney General Holder said that “in jurisdictions across this country – both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all to common.” He said that in October 2011:
“the Justice Department objected to a redistricting plan in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, where the map-drawer began the process by meeting exclusively with white officeholders – and never consulted black officeholders. The result was a map that diminished the electoral opportunity of African Americans. After the Justice Department objected, the Parish enacted a new, non-discriminatory map.”
Holder also said that in Texas the Department of Justice “argued that in court filings that proposed redistricting plans for both the State House and the Texas Congressional delegation are impermissible, because the state has failed to show the absence of discrimination. The most recent Census data indicated that Texas has gained more than 4 million new residents – the vast majority of whom are Hispanic – and that this growth allows for four new Congressional seats. However, this State has proposed adding zero additional seats in which Hispanics would have the electoral opportunity envisioned by the Voting Rights Act. Federal courts are still considering this matter, and we intend to argue vigorously at trial that this is precisely the kind of discrimination that Section 5 was intended to block.”
Holder asked “what kind of nation – and what kind of people – do we want to be?”…
Attorney General Holder said, “For me – and for our nation’s Department of Justice – the answers are clear. We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination, and partisan influence – and that are more, not less, accessible to the citizens of this country.”
Holder Recommended Election Reforms to Improve Citizens Access to Voting
1. Allow citizens to be able to register to vote at a “wider variety of government offices – beyond just the local department of motor vehicles.”
2. The Voting Rights Act insures protections for language minorities. Important to insure all Americans have a choice to vote in their native language.
3. Need for Neutrality in redistricting efforts. “Districts should be drawn to promote fair and effective representation for all – not merely to undercut electoral competition and protect incumbants.”
4. Tougher laws for those engaging in fraudulent voting practices.
Election Fraud in Maryland
Holder relayed that last week “the campaign manager of a Maryland [GOP] gubernatorial candidate was convicted on election fraud charges for approving anonymous “robocalls” that went out on Election Day last year to more than 100,000 voters in the state’s two largest majority-black jurisdictions. These calls encouraged voters to stay home – telling them to “relax” because they preferred candidate had already wrapped up a victory.”
5. Modernize registration. Holder said all citizens should be “automatically registered to vote” because “the ability to vote is a right – it is not a privilege.”
Holder also urged citizens to be vigilant and to keep their local officials and the Department of Justice apprised of violations of the Voting Rights Act.