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A Times Editorial

Justice Department steps in to ensure voting rights

The effort by states controlled by Republicans to make it harder for minorities to vote is hitting some appropriate speed bumps. The Justice Department has blocked Texas from implementing a new law that requires voters to present picture identification, concluding that Hispanic voters would be disproportionately hurt. Earlier this month, the department told a three-judge district court that it also opposes key provisions of Florida's recent election law changes because minority voters will be adversely affected. The department should continue to aggressively enforce provisions of the Voting Rights Act that protect minority voters in places where there is a history of voter discrimination.

Under the Voting Rights Act, five of Florida's 67 counties — Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe — must preclear any changes to voting procedures before they can take effect, because of past minority disenfranchisement. Texas also has the burden of showing that any changes do not negatively impact minority voting. States may seek preclearance through the Justice Department or a three-judge district court in Washington.

Texas lost its preclearance request before the department because statistics show that Hispanic voters are much more likely to lack a driver's license or state-issued identification card. Florida passed a photo ID requirement in 2005 that won preclearance, but it has far looser standards on what type of identification is acceptable.

For Florida's 2011 election law changes, state officials withdrew their application for preclearance before the Justice Department and went to court. They slowed down a process that they now say needs to speed up and proceed without a trial. But a trial is essential to fully probing the new law's impact. And the delay is Florida's fault.

Three sections of the new law under review would damage the voting rights of minorities, and in each case the Justice Department is opposing preclearance before the court.

One section puts burdensome requirements on voter registration groups and imposes fines when a completed voter registration form is not submitted to the state within 48 hours, as opposed to 10 days. That led organizations such as the League of Women Voters to suspend voter registration efforts. Minorities are more likely to register to vote through community-based drives.

Another section cuts early voting days from 14 to eight and bars early voting on the Sunday before an election, when African-Americans are disproportionately likely to cast ballots. There also is a provision that makes voters use a provisional ballot rather than a regular ballot if they moved between counties without updating their address with elections officials. This disadvantages those who tend to move around, such as renters and people with low incomes, a demographic also correlated to minorities.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder is fulfilling its obligation under the Voting Rights Act to police efforts by states to curb minority voting. It is a welcome sign that Jim Crow won't be allowed to rise again.

Justice Department steps in to ensure voting rights 03/15/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 15, 2012 5:12pm]
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