Thursday, December 15, 2011

United States Attorney General Eric Holder on Voter Suppression

"Since January, more than a dozen states have advanced new voting measures.   Some of these new laws are currently under review by the Justice Department, based on our obligations under the Voting Rights Act.   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 voting period."  

"Although I cannot go into detail about the ongoing review of these and other state-law changes, I can assure you that it will be thorough – and fair.   We will examine the facts, and we will apply the law.   If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change.   And where a state can’t meet this burden, we will object as part of our obligation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."  

"As many of you know... Section 5 was put in place decades ago because of a well-documented history of voter discrimination in all or parts of the 16 states to which it applies.   Within these “covered jurisdictions,” any proposed change in voting procedures or practices – from moving a polling location to enacting a statewide redistricting plan – must be “precleared” – that is, approved – either by the Justice Department, or by a panel of federal judges."  

"...Sections 5’s preclearance process has been a powerful tool in combating discrimination for decades..."

"Despite the long history of support for Section 5, this keystone of our voting rights laws is now being challenged five years after its reauthorization as unconstitutional in no fewer than five lawsuits.   Each of these lawsuits claims that we’ve attained a new era of electoral equality, that America in 2011 has moved beyond the challenges of 1965, and that Section 5 is no longer necessary." 

"I wish this were the case.   The reality is that – in jurisdictions across the country – both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common.   And we don’t have to look far to see recent proof."

" in Texas, just two months ago, the Department argued 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."

"To those who argue that Section 5 is no longer necessary – these and other examples are proof that we still need this critical tool to combat discrimination and safeguard the right to vote."  

"Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls – from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot.   Before the 2004 elections, fliers were distributed in minority neighborhoods in Milwaukee, falsely claiming that “[I]f anybody in your family has ever been found guilty [of a crime], you can’t vote in the presidential election” – and you risk a 10-year prison sentence if you do.   Two years later, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received mailings, warning in Spanish that, “[If] you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that can result in jail time.”   Both of these blatant falsehoods likely deterred some eligible citizens from going to the polls."

"And, just last week, the campaign manager of a Maryland 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 their preferred candidate had already wrapped up a victory."

"In an effort to deter and punish such harmful practices, during his first year in the U.S. Senate, President Obama introduced legislation that would establish tough criminal penalties for those who engage in fraudulent voting practices – and would help to ensure that citizens have complete and accurate information about where and when to vote.   Unfortunately, this proposal did not move forward.   But I’m pleased to announce that – tomorrow – Senators Charles Schumer and Ben Cardin will re-introduce this legislation, in an even stronger form.   I applaud their leadership – and I look forward to working with them as Congress considers this important legislation..."  

"...there will always be those who say that easing registration hurdles will only lead to voter fraud.   Let me be clear: voter fraud is not acceptable – and will not be tolerated by this Justice Department.   But as I learned early in my career – as a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, where I actually investigated and prosecuted voting-fraud cases – making voter registration easier is simply not likely, by itself, to make our elections more susceptible to fraud.   Indeed, those on all sides of this debate have acknowledged that in-person voting fraud is uncommon.   We must be honest about this.   And we must recognize that o ur ability to ensure the strength and integrity of our election systems – and to advance the reforms necessary to achieve this – depends on whether the American people are informed, engaged, and willing to demand commonsense solutions that make voting more accessible.   Politicians may not readily alter the very systems under which they were elected.   Only we, the people, can bring about meaningful change."

"So speak out.   Raise awareness about what’s at stake. Call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and, instead, encourage and work with the parties to achieve this success by appealing to more voters.   And urge policymakers at every level to reevaluate our election systems – and to reform them in ways that encourage, not limit, participation."

"Today, we cannot – and must not – take the right to vote for granted.  Nor can we shirk the sacred responsibility that falls upon our shoulders."

You can read the entire speech here
Eric Holder
U.S. Attorney General
At the LBJ Presidential Library
December 13, 2011

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