Holder: I Promise to Do ‘Whatever Is Necessary’ to Defend Voting Rights
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder kicked off Rev. Al Sharpton's annual convention of the National Action Network by promising a thorough investigation in the Trayvon Martin case, a close eye on the Wisconsin recall elections, and an "unequivocal commitment" to protecting at risk voting rights.
"Let me be very clear: this Administration will do whatever is necessary to ensure the continued viability of the Voting Rights Act—our nation’s most important civil rights statute," Holder said. "As Dr. [Martin Luther] King so often pointed out, in this great country, the ability of all eligible citizens to participate in—and to have a voice in—the work of government is not a privilege. It is a right. And protecting the right to vote, ensuring meaningful access, and combating discrimination must be viewed, not only as a legal issue but as a moral imperative."
Three states have recently come under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice for their voter ID laws, which the department is concerned threaten and/or undermine the Voting Rights Act. The especially threatened section of the act is Section 5, which protect minority communities in explicit areas of federal jurisdiction where discrimination has a historical predecent.
After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, there was concern that the act would not be enforceable in areas were discrimination was most likely to occur. Section 5 gives the federal government special powers to oversee necessary election law changes to prevent discrimination.
According to Holder's comments at the conference, three states stand out for current voting laws that challenge the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act: South Carolina, Texas, and Florida. The major constitutional concern with these states is because Texas and South Carolina are covered completely under Section 5 jurisdiction and Florida has five counties that covered.
And Texas is now attempting to challenge Section 5. According to an article by Brentin Mock on Colorlines, the required three-judge panel (which the Voting Right Act calls for) has agreed to hear the challenge of Section 5's application to Texas Voter ID law, but only after the lawsuit situation has been resolved.
South Carolina's legislation—which requires a driver's license, passport, or military ID to vote—was rejected by the DOJ because of it's failure to prove the widespread voter impersonation that legislators claimed the bill was created to address. South Carolina has also decided to take the DOJ to court over its Voter ID law.
Florida has the most lenient law of the three states, accepting any ID with a name and photo. Dara Kam of the Palm Beach Post News notes that this includes a range from "credit and debit cards, student identification, public assistance cards to those from neighborhood association or retirement centers." The Florida law also requires a signature match if it is not on the presented ID.
Closer to the end of his remarks, Holder noted: "Despite its rarity, any instance of voter fraud is unacceptable—and will not be tolerated by the Department of Justice. There’s no dispute on this issue. And there’s no reason we should allow it to distract us from our collective responsibility to ensure that our democracy is as strong, fair, and inclusive as possible. Let me be clear once again: whatever reason might be advanced, this Department of Justice will oppose any effort—any effort—to disenfranchise American citizens."
Read his full statement here.
Jeff Raines is a journalism intern with Campus Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Raines.
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