Eric Holder: We need national standards for voting

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holde responds to a question during a forum at the JFK Kennedy Library and Museum, in Boston, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holde responds to a question during a forum at the JFK Kennedy Library and Museum, in Boston, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012
Steven Senne/AP

Attorney General Eric Holder said America’s election system needs to be made “stronger and more accessible,” and defended the Justice Department’s challenges to restrictive voting laws.

In a speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Holder criticized the country’s “antiquated registration system,” calling it the “single largest barrier” to American voters. He proposed that modern technology could help alleviate many problems, suggesting an updated voter registration system, coordinated between states, could rely on government databases and be portable, allowing voters to remain registered to vote even when they move.

“A recent study by the MacArthur Foundation found that nearly 90 percent of those who voted in last month’s election would support creating national voting standards,” Holder added. “That’s why it is important for national leaders, academic experts, and members of the public to engage in a frank, thorough, and inclusive discussion about how our election systems can be made stronger and more accessible.”

Holder also echoed the words of his boss, President Obama, who said on election night that “we need to fix” long lines at the polls, which occurred predominantly in Democratic-leaning, minority neighborhoods. As potential fixes, Holder talked up expanded voting hours and same-day registration.

“We should rethink this whole notion that voting only occurs on Tuesday, which is an agricultural notion from way back,” Holder said. “Why not have voting on weekends?”

The Senate Judiciary Committee could take up those same issues when they meet on December 19 for a hearing on “the state of the right to vote.”

Holder also rebutted claims of widespread voter fraud that have been used to justify restrictive laws over the last few years. “In-person voter fraud simply doesn’t exist to the extent that some on the right have said that it does,” he said.

The nation’s first black attorney general also defended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,which the Supreme Court will consider next year. Some argue the law is obsolete, now that overt racial discrimination over voting in the south has subsided. But Holder says that recent challenges brought to voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina by the Justice Department, along with the more widespread voter suppression efforts seen elsewhere in the country, show the measure is still needed.

“The notion that this is somehow a thing of the past is belied by the experience we had months ago, some of which happened outside covered jurisdictions.”

Holder said he plans to make voting rights a top priority in the near future, but said he won’t be a “Cal Ripken” or “Janet Reno” as he plans to step down before serving two full terms.