The NAACP must mount a 1960s-style fight to protect the voting rights of blacks and other ethnic minorities amid efforts to suppress their votes through photo identification requirements and intimidation, former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday at the black civil rights group’s annual convention in Baltimore.
“The most basic of American rights is under siege,” said Holder, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama. “Only we the people can bring about change.”
Holder said the suppression efforts include President Donald Trump’s creation of a commission to prevent a repeat of the voter fraud that only he believes was rampant in the last election and resulted in Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win despite her all-important electoral-college loss to Trump.
Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has sought voters’ names, addresses, party affiliations and voting records but the request has been overwhelmingly rejected by state election boards, including Maryland’s.
On Monday, a federal judge gave the commission a green light to collect data about voters. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rejected a privacy group’s challenge to the collection effort and its demand that the commission reveal how the data will be safeguarded. But the decision, which the judge described as “highly technical,” may not be the last word as states weren’t part of the lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and aren’t compelled to comply.
Holder said calls for photo identification at polling places and requests for voting records are “overly prescriptive and unfairly restrictive,” particularly on minority voters. He urged convention attendees to “not take the right to vote for granted” and to challenge suppression efforts through the legislatures, the courts and in peaceful protest.
Voting-rights supporters must act “with optimism and without delay” against what Holder, a Democrat, called “a partisan assault” on voting rights – a charge Trump and other Republicans reject.
Saying voting is a right, not a privilege, Holder added that those eligible should be automatically registered to vote through state agencies, such as motor-vehicle departments, and school systems upon graduation from high school. Such automatic registration could repel efforts to intimidate and encourage greater turnout for elections, he added.
Holder also called for elections to be held not just on one Tuesday in November but over several days to increase voter participation, particularly by those who cannot afford to take time off from work.
The American people must “encourage, not limit participation” in elections, Holder said, adding that voting is “the lifeblood of our democracy.”
In the fight to expand the voting rolls and access to the polls, civil-rights advocates must not be intimidated by Trump’s proclivity to attack his opponents through social media, Holder said.
“Don’t be afraid of being the subject of a tweet,” he added.
Holder also referred to Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, civil-rights activists killed in 1964 while trying to register black voters in Mississippi.
“We must honor their sacrifice,” Holder said. “We must be true to the arc of American history.”
Bloomberg contributed to this story.