Dear Attorney General Holder:
We are writing to express our concerns about highly restrictive photo identification requirements under consideration or already signed into law in several states. These measures have the potential to block millions of eligible American voters without addressing any problem commensurate with this kind of restriction on voting rights. Studies have shown that as high as 11% of eligible voters nationwide do not have a government-issued ID. This percentage is higher for seniors, racial minorities, low-income voters and students. Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and we urge you to protect the voting rights of Americans by using the full power of the Department of Justice to review these voter identification laws and scrutinize their implementation.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act vests significant authority in the Department to review laws before they are implemented in covered jurisdictions. As you know, the burden of proof in this preclearance process is on those covered jurisdictions, which must be able to show that legal changes will not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. New photo identification laws, for instance, must be subjected to the highest scrutiny as states justify these new barriers to participation. In Section 5 jurisdictions, whenever photo identification legislation is considered, the Department should closely monitor the legislative process to track any unlawful intent evinced by the proceedings.
Restrictive photo identification requirements are also being considered or have passed in states and jurisdictions that are not covered by Section 5. The Department should exercise vigilance in overseeing whether these laws are implemented in a way that discriminates against protected classes in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Additionally, federal civil rights law – 42 U.S.C. 1971(a)(2)- prohibits different standards, practices or procedures from being applied to individuals within a jurisdiction. We believe the Department should ensure that these photo identification laws do not violate this statute or other federal voting rights statutes.
Thank you for your work protecting the civil rights of all Americans.
Michael F. Bennet, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin Charles E. Schumer, Patty Murray, Jeanne Shaheen, Mary Landrieu, Benjamin L. Cardin, Sherrod Brown Mark Begich, Jeff Merkley,Kirsten E. Gillibran, Ron Wyden,Tom Harkin, Tom Udall, Herb Kohl
This has disappeared from memory, but I think it’s important to recall that some Republicans tried to remove certain protections in the VRA in 2005 and 2006. They failed.
The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act for 25 years, rejecting contentious efforts by Southern Republicans to dilute the landmark law.
Conservatives introduced four amendments to weaken the act, and all were rejected by large bipartisan majorities. One proposed eliminating the requirement for foreign-language ballots. Another would have created an easier method for states to escape federal oversight.