Over the past few months, the efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to institute more restrictive requirements for voting have been heatedly opposed by groups such as the NAACP and others, who see a growing assault on hard-won voting rights that were a centerpiece of the civil rights movement. The U.S. Justice Department has been listening.
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder disclosed that the Justice Dept. has opened a record number of more than 100 new investigations into possible voting rights discrimination across the country.
During an appearance at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Holder vowed to defend the landmark voting rights law increasingly under attack this presidential year.
“The reality is that — in jurisdictions across the country — both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common — and have not yet been relegated to the pages of history,” Holder told the audience.
Some of the success stories he mentioned included the cases of two Ohio counties — Cuyahoga and Lorain — which agreed to ensure that bilingual ballots are available on county voting machines and that bilingual poll workers are on hand to help.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires all or parts of 16 states — mainly in the South, with a history of discriminating against minorities — to obtain federal approval before carrying out changes in elections. As of last week, there were 833 Section 5 submissions for proposed electoral changes awaiting Justice Department approval.
Some of the laws state, county and local units of government would like to see enacted include legislation that restricts early voting and Sunday voting, laws requiring a photo ID on election day — introducing the first financial document barrier to voting since the Jim Crow-era poll tax — and new bans on ex-felons, which some critics are calling racially motivated.
From 1982 to 2006, the Justice Department filed over 700 objections to proposed voting changes from within states and counties covered by Section 5.
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