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Holder vows to enforce civil rights in upcoming elections

US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] pledged Tuesday to enforce civil rights [speech] during next year's elections. Speaking at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum [website] in Austin, Texas, Holder stressed the importance of the right to vote, calling it the "cornerstone of our system of government." He expressed concern over several recently enacted state laws currently under review by the Justice Department that could infringe on this fundamental right. Holder said:

Since January, more than a dozen states have advanced new voting measures. Some of these new laws are currently under review by the Justice Department, based on our obligations under the Voting Rights Act. Texas and South Carolina, for example, have enacted laws establishing new photo identification requirements that we’re reviewing. We're also examining a number of changes that Florida has made to its electoral process, including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, as well as changes to early voting procedures, including the number of days in the early voting period.

Although I cannot go into detail about the ongoing review of these and other state-law changes, I can assure you that it will be thorough—and fair. We will examine the facts, and we will apply the law. If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And where a state can't meet this burden, we will object as part of our obligation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Holder also highlighted three areas in need of reform: deceptive election practices, neutrality in redistricting efforts and modernizing voter registration.

In October, the Brennan Center for Justice [advocacy website] reported that several new US state election laws that become effective in 2012 may make it harder for some qualified voters to cast their ballots [JURIST report]. The report indicates that as many as five million voters may be affected by the changes and may find it significantly harder to vote in 2012. The study examined the five broad categories of new election laws: those that require voters show photo identification to vote, those that require proof of citizenship to register to vote, those that make it harder to register to vote by eliminating same day voter registration, those that reduce early and absentee voting and those that make it harder for convicted felons to restore their voting rights. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a challenge [JURIST report] to Wisconsin's new voter identification requirement. Last week, the US Supreme Court agreed to rule on the Texas redistricting dispute [JURIST report].

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