The U.S. should consider automatically registering eligible voters and extending voting hours to counter the November election’s long lines and administrative hurdles, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Holder, speaking today at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, proposed expanding access for voters and overhauling a registration system he called “antiquated.”
“It is important for national leaders, academic experts, and members of the public to engage in a frank, thorough and inclusive discussion about how our election systems can be made stronger and more accessible,” Holder said in prepared remarks.
President Barack Obama called for changes on election night after voters in states including Florida and Virginia waited for hours to cast ballots. Obama, while thanking voters who stood in line “for a very long time,” added, “By the way, we have to fix that.”
Lawmakers and interest groups have responded with proposals and hearings, though legislative changes haven’t made headway in the Congress.
The 2012 campaign was defined, in part, by voter access lawsuits in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida after Republican-dominated legislatures required photo identification and limited hours at polling places.
Republican lawmakers said the measures were needed to prevent fraud and allow elections to run more efficiently. Holder’s Justice Department moved to block or delay some state laws.
“Attempts to restrict voting are inconsistent with our history,” Holder said, citing federal court decisions that uphold voters’ rights. “The desire to achieve an electoral advantage must never trump our democratic values.”
Holder also addressed a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court will consider overturning next year. Under the law, all or part of 16 mostly Southern states are required to get federal approval before changing their voting rules. Opponents of the provision, put in place to stop discriminatory practices, say it’s no longer warranted.
Holder said the so-called preclearance requirement was “an indispensable tool for eradicating racial discrimination.”
“In too many places, troubling divisions and disparities remain,” he said.