- Feb 10, 2005
- Reaction score
- Montgomery, Al
WASHINGTON -- 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 on 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 this 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.
In the same spirit, two U.S. senators introduced a bill this week that would toughen penalties for fraudulent voting practices.
The new state voting laws generally toughen the ID requirements for casting a ballot. More than a dozen states have adopted such laws this year.
Civil rights groups say the new voter ID laws suppress voter turnout, particularly among minorities, the elderly and the poor. Defenders of the laws say they prevent fraudulent voting.
The Mississippi law, passed last month, requires residents to have a government-issued photo when they go to the polls.
Seven other states -- Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin -- also require government-issued photo IDs to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota request photo IDs, but voters may cast a ballot if they can meet other criteria.
Sixteen states also now require some form of identification to vote, but not necessarily photo IDs.