The nation’s top law enforcement official drew attention to two of the state’s hot-button political issues — redistricting and voter ID — telling a Texas audience Tuesday night that making it harder to vote “goes against the arc of history.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder criticized recent efforts in Texas and other states that have passed restrictive election laws, saying voting rights instead should be expanded.
Holder was speaking at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, which houses the late president’s official records and memorabilia, including the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that he signed. Making frequent references to Johnson’s legacy on voting rights, Holder encouraged the audience to “speak out. Raise awareness of what’s at stake.”
He said strict voter ID laws can cut voter turnout. And he was critical of using the redistricting process to choose politicians instead of creating districts that allow voters to choose their voice in government. “All citizens should be automatically registered to vote,” Holder said, suggesting states should modernize out-of-date paper registration systems. “The single biggest barrier to vote in this country is our antiquated voting system,” he said.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, defended the state’s actions and took issue with Holder’s speech. “Voter identification laws are constitutional and necessary to prevent fraud at the ballot box,” Cornyn said. “Facing an election challenge next year, this administration has chosen to target efforts by the states to protect the democratic process.”
Voting rights have remained controversial since the civil rights marches and demonstrations in the 1960s. Johnson implored Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act during a historic speech on March 15, 1965.
“It is wrong, deadly wrong to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country,” the president told Congress.The speech may have been the most important message Johnson ever delivered, said Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ library. Congress passed the legislation five months later.