There has been a coordinated attack this year on voting rights. More than a dozen states have enacted laws that are intended to make it more burdensome for Americans to cast a ballot, which President Lyndon Johnson called “the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.” New requirements – for special IDs, for example–will reduce turnout among minorities, the uneducated, the poor, the elderly, the newly arrived, students and other groups that traditionally vote for Democratic candidates. (For an explanation of why voter ID laws have a discriminatory effect, see my previous post on the subject.)
Now Attorney General Eric Holder is fighting back. I was delighted to hear Mr. Holder deliver a powerful speech in Texas yesterday, during which he said his department is facing five separate lawsuits aimed at killing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which gives the Justice Department the power to review any changes to voting rules in 16 places that have a history of discrimination.
That history is clear and indisputable. As Mr. Holder pointed out, Americans “willingly confronted hatred, bias, and ignorance – as well as billy clubs and fire hoses, bullets and bombs” to defend their right to vote without interference. And it is equally indisputable that discrimination is still a huge problem in this country. (Oh, by the way, a bill renewing Section 5 was approved by overwhelming votes in both houses of Congress in 2006 and signed into law by President George W. Bush.)
Mr. Holder also pledged to support efforts to speed and ease voter registration. He spoke about automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and other programs that are not just a good idea, but vital to preserve our democracy.