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Holder: Ohio's early voting cuts are 'major step backward'

The attorney general urged supporters of voting restrictions to think about how history will remember them.
Eric Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Justice Department in Washington, on Sept. 16, 2014.

In a forceful and impassioned plea for voting rights, Attorney General Eric Holder sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to allow cuts to early voting in Ohio. And he urged supporters of voting restrictions to think about how history will remember them.

“It is a major step backward to allow these reductions to early voting to go into effect,” Holder said in an unusual recorded video address posted on the Justice Department’s website Monday.

Last week, the Supreme Court’s five conservative justices ordered that the elimination of Ohio’s “Golden Week”—when voters can register and vote early on the same day—can go forward, after it had been blocked by a federal judge. The Justice Department had submitted a supportive brief on behalf of the law’s challengers.

Holder announced late last month that he’d be stepping down as attorney general once a replacement is confirmed. The news was greeted with intense disappointment by voting rights and civil rights advocates, who view the attorney general as a champion of their issues.

In the video, Holder said early voting isn’t merely about convenience.

“It’s about preserving access and openness for every eligible voter, not just those who can afford to miss work or who can afford to pay for childcare,” he said.

But Holder’s message was broader. In addition to Ohio’s early voting cuts, he noted Texas’s voter ID law and North Carolina’s sweeping and restrictive voting law—both of which the Justice Department is challenging but which could well be in effect this fall. And, as he has before, he cast these efforts as “out of step” with the American tradition of expanding the franchise.

“Throughout our nation’s history, we have repeatedly seen that there is simply no good reason – no good reason – to reduce voting access,” Holder said. “Indeed, the arc of our nation’s history has until recently been to expand access to the ballot.”

Holder even appeared to link backers of voter ID and other voting restrictions with proponents of poll taxes, literacy test, and other devices aimed at keeping minorities and the poor from voting during the Jim Crow era: He urged public officials who support such restrictions to “reflect on their place in the history of this country to which they are potentially consigning themselves.”