National and local civil rights groups are asking federal officials to aggressively challenge new election laws in Alabama, Mississippi and other states, saying the laws threaten to reverse decades-old efforts to expand voting rights to all Americans. ”
It’s a widespread rollback of voting rights the likes of which we haven’t seen since poll taxes,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co director of the Advancement Project, a voting rights group based in Washington. “So we’re going to fight like we did in 1964.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he understands the fight, calling voting rights protection a priority for the Justice Department.
“Despite so many decades of struggle, sacrifice, and achievement, we must remain ever vigilant in safeguarding our most basic and important right,” Holder said in a speech in Texas Tuesday. “The reality is that in jurisdictions across the country, both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common.”
Holder’s speech sent a “good shot over the bow,” said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who led the 2006 effort to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Earlier last week, the Advancement Project and other groups delivered a petition to Holder urging him to challenge the new laws. A coalition of state and national groups also called on him to “vigilantly” protect the rights Latino voters and other minorities.