U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to uphold voting rights in his keynote address this morning at the Conference of National Black Churches annual meeting in Washington D.C. The three-day event is being held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus and focuses on issues of concern to members of the nation’s nine largest African American denominations.
The Attorney General promised to defend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, especially Section 5, which requires Justice Department clearance before changes can be made to voting laws in Southern states and those that have a history of disenfranchising Black voters.
“This process, known as ‘preclearance,’ has been a powerful tool in combating discrimination for decades. And it has consistently enjoyed broad bipartisan support – including in its most recent reauthorization, when President Bush and an overwhelming Congressional majority came together in 2006 to renew the Act’s key provisions – and extend it until 2031. Yet, in the six years since its reauthorization, Section 5 has increasingly come under attack by those who claim it’s no longer needed,” said Holder.
He also said that between 1965 and 2010, only eight challenges to Section 5 were filed in court, but in the last two years there have been “no fewer than nine lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of that provision.” Each challenge “claims that we’ve attained a new era of electoral equality, that America in 2012 has moved beyond the challenges of 1965, and that Section 5 is no longer necessary,” he said, adding that “nearly two dozen new state laws and executive orders” enacted in more than a dozen states “could make it significantly harder for many eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”
“We’re now examining a number of redistricting plans in covered jurisdictions, as well as other types of changes to our election systems and processes – including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, to early voting procedures, and to photo identification requirements – to ensure that there is no discriminatory purpose or effect. 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, as we have demonstrated repeatedly, when a jurisdiction fails to meet its burden of proving that a proposed voting change would not have a racially discriminatory effect – we will object, as we have in 15 separate cases since last September,” said Holder.
The Attorney General also promised to protect the voting rights of military personnel and other Americans living abroad, as well as veterans, citizens with disabilities, college students, and language minorities at home, but said “no form of electoral fraud ever has been – or ever will be – tolerated by the United States government.”
Coincidentally, in a statement published by The Hill today, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the ranking members of the Committees on the Judiciary and House Administration, announced that they were joining other Democrats in introducing the Voter Empowerment Act, which they say “protects the integrity of elections by improving eligible voters’ access to the ballot box” by modernizing voter registration, “automatically and permanently enroll consenting eligible voters,” providing for online registration, allowing same day voter registration at the poll, and simplifying the registration process for members of the military serving overseas, among other things.
What do you think?
Are voting rights in danger or are Democrats engaging in “get out the vote” scare tactics?