Eric Holder Takes Voting Rights Battle to Ohio, Wisconsin

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Attorney General Challenges States’ Election Laws, Calling Them Discriminatory.

The Obama administration filed court papers Wednesday challenging Republican-backed election laws in Ohio and Wisconsin, as the legal fights over voting rights spread beyond traditional Southern borders.

In Wisconsin, the Justice Department filed a brief supporting a previous federal court ruling against the state’s photo identification requirement, which was deemed unfair to minority voters. In Ohio, the Justice Department weighed in against a law limiting early voting and same day registration.

Attorney General Eric Holder, in a statement, said the two states’ voting laws “represent the latest, misguided attempts to fix a system that isn’t broken,” adding that both measures “threaten access to the ballot box.” Mr. Holder had previously signaled his department would take legal action against Ohio and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has defended his state’s identification law as necessary to prevent voter fraud that could sway an election. His office didn’t immediately comment on Wednesday’s filing.

Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, said, “It’s hard to understand why the Justice Department is targeting our state, especially when we have 28 days of early voting which surpasses the national average of 19… . I think their time would be better spent educating Ohioans about how easy it is to vote, rather than trying to scare them into thinking otherwise.”

The legal skirmishes between the administration and some states’ Republican officials have intensified since last year’s Supreme Court ruling invalidating a key part of the Voting Rights Act, which required certain jurisdictions, mostly in the South, to get preapproval from federal authorities before changing voting laws.

The challenges in Ohio and Wisconsin mark an expansion of the Obama administration’s fight on voting issues beyond the geographic areas specified in the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department has already sued North Carolina and Texas over its voting laws.

In Wisconsin, the Justice Department is asking an appeals court to uphold a judge’s prior ruling that the state’s photo identification requirement puts an unfair burden on low-income voters.

A federal court has already determined that about 300,000 eligible voters—roughly 9% of the state’s registered voters—lack the necessary identification, and a substantial number of them were low-income earners who don’t need a photo ID in their daily life or who have encountered obstacles to getting such ID.

The fight in Ohio dates back to the 2004 presidential election, when the highly-contested state saw long lines that forced some voters to wait hours to vote. In subsequent elections, early voting was extended for weeks before Election Day, but more recently state officials decided to reduce the amount of time available for early voting.

In a 23-page court filing in the Ohio case, Justice Department lawyers said “African-Americans in particular have come to rely upon early voting options for participating in the political process.” Some African-Americans tend to vote on Sunday after church or on weekends to avoid missing time at work.

The state of Ohio, the filing said, “introduced early voting opportunities… and now seeks to reduce those opportunities in a way that plaintiffs allege has a discriminatory result for African-American voters.”

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