[JURIST] The Civil Rights Division [official website] of the US Department of Justice is stepping up its enforcement of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act [official backgrounder], according to a report from McClatchy Newspapers. The law, commonly known as the "Motor Voter Act," is designed to make it easier for Americans to register to vote and to maintain their registration. It targets registration of low income and disabled people, many of whom are minorities, and requires all public-assistance agencies to offer voter registration services. The division sent letters in August requiring 18 states to provide evidence of proof of compliance with the Act, an effort which was partly in response to criticism of department policies that allegedly discourage votes of minorities, particularly African-Americans, who are likely to vote Democrat. Justice Department spokeswoman Jodi Bobb told McClatchy Newspapers that the Department has always protected African-American voter rights and accusations to the contrary are "false." The DOJ has filed lawsuits [DOJ materials] dating back to 1994 against states that fail to comply with the Act's requirements.
The new emphasis by the DOJ is partially in response to criticisms earlier this year that the Department had become politicized, as with the dismissal of several US attorneys [JURIST report]. New Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey [WH profile, JURIST news archive] has promised not to allow partisan politics to interfere with the DOJ's law enforcement decisions. The Civil Rights Division has also come under scrutiny in recent months for what some say is a shift in the department's focus. The New York Times reported in June that the Bush administration has focused on investigating issues of religious freedom and discrimination [JURIST report] at the expense of race. Earlier this year the Justice Department unveiled a new religious discrimination education initiative [JURIST report], and noted that the Civil Rights Division has "dramatically increased enforcement" of religious discrimination laws [DOJ report] between 2001 and 2006. McClatchy Newspapers has more.