U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be giving a speech today about laws recently enacted all over the country that some say will suppress voter turnout among minorities, young people and low-income and disabled voters.
The speech comes during a flurry of activity following restrictive voting laws passed all over the country in the past year. Policymakers in states such as Florida have maintained the laws were crafted to prevent voter fraud.
Florida’s Republican-led Legislature passed an elections law last session that reduces the number of early voting days, creates onerous regulations for third-party voter registration drives and shortens the shelf life for ballot initiative signatures, among other things. A sponsor of the bill has said the bill makes Florida’s elections more “reliable.”
Many groups have denounced the laws, saying the new rules restrict voting rights from minorities and other Democratic-leaning voters as the 2012 election looms. Those complaints are gaining traction at the state and federal level. Yesterday, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., announced that the Senate will commence with field hearings in January in Florida to investigate the effect of the state’s new law. Holder will today give a speech on the same subject.
The Washington Post reports:
With the presidential campaign heating up, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will deliver a speech Tuesday expressing concerns about the voter-identification laws, along with a Texas redistricting plan before the Supreme Court that fails to take into account the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population, he said in an interview Monday.
Holder will speak at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Libary and Museum in Austin, Tex., which honors the president who shepherded the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law.
“We are a better nation now than we were because more people are involved in the electoral process,’’ Holder said in the interview. “The beauty of this nation, the strength of this nation, is its diversity, and when we try to exclude people from being involved in the process . . . we weaken the fabric of this country.’’
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, Holder said his department “will be aggressive” in investigating “jurisdictions that have attempted for whatever reason to restrict the ability of people to get to the polls.”
“I think a fundamental question is raised: Who are we as a nation?” Holder said. “Shouldn’t we be coming up with ways to encourage more people to get to the polls to express their views? I am not talking about any one particular state effort, but more generally I think for those who would consider trying to use methods, techniques to discourage people from coming to the polls — that’s inconsistent with what we say we are as a nation.”
The Post reports that “a staff attorney for the ACLU Voting Rights Project … said the Justice Department could reject some laws through the pre-clearance process and file lawsuits seeking to stop others from taking effect.” According to the Post, Holder has already said that “the laws could depress turnout for minorities, poor and elderly people and those with disabilities who would have difficulty securing valid identification documents.”
Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on controversial aspects of its law from a court in the District of Columbia. Five counties in Florida require federal preclearance of voting laws per the Voting Rights Act.