ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Calls on Justice Department to Enforce Voting Rights Laws, Not Block People from Voting

October 30, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project called on Congress today to investigate the Voting Rights Section of the Department of Justice, which in recent years has abandoned its historic role as the principal enforcer of voting discrimination laws and has instead used its power to promote barriers to voting.

ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, where Voting Rights Section Chief John Tanner also testified.

“Recent decisions of the Voting Rights Section have been driven by partisan bias, in which political appointees have overridden the recommendations of the career staff,” said Laughlin McDonald. “Not only have minority voters been seriously injured, but the integrity of the Voting Rights Section has been called into question. Congressional oversight is needed now to insure the Voting Rights Section fairly administers Section 5 and that the rights of minorities are adequately protected.”

In recent years the Justice Department Voting Rights Section has waged a campaign to restrict voter access by:

  • Pre-clearing Georgia’s voter photo ID program despite no evidence of impersonation fraud at the polls. The Georgia law has been shown to discriminate against minorities, the elderly, and low-income individuals – groups that are less likely to have such ID.
  • Ignoring recommendations from career Justice Department professionals to object to the Georgia voter photo ID law and Texas’ congressional redistricting plan, both of which have been shown to harm minorities.
  • Allowing political partisanship to drive a controversial determination in a Mississippi congressional plan that favored Republicans.
  • Thwarting the investigation of serious allegations of voter discrimination against Native Americans in Minnesota.
  • Preventing social service agencies from registering voters despite the mandate of the National Voter Registration Act.
  • Forcing states to purge thousands of eligible voters from registration rolls needlessly, thereby denying people their right to vote.

“The right to vote is the most fundamental right in a democracy; it preserves our ability to exercise all other rights,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Joanne Lin. “The Justice Department needs to return to its original mission of protecting voting rights for all – so that our government can be a ‘government of the people… by the people… for the people.’”

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