AG Holder: Government Has ‘Responsibility’ to Automatically Register Citizens to Vote

By Susan Jones | December 14, 2011 | 8:59am EST

Attorney General Eric Holder (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

( - "All eligible citizens can and should be automatically registered to vote," and it's the government's "responsibility" to see that it happens, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday.

In a call to modernize voter registration, Holder noted that many elections officials still are manually processing new applications, many of them handwritten -- a situation that produces errors and confusion at the polls, he said.

"Fortunately, modern technology provides a straightforward fix for these problems," Holder continued. "It should be the government’s responsibility to automatically register citizens to vote, by compiling -- from databases that already exist -- a list of all eligible residents in each jurisdiction."

The lists would be used "solely to administer elections" and "would  protect essential privacy rights," Holder told a gathering at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.

Holder also called for "permanent, portable" voter registration that would follow voters to a new polling place when they move. "Until that happens, we should implement fail-safe procedures to correct voter-roll errors and omissions, by allowing every voter to cast a regular, non-provisional ballot on Election Day," Holder said.  

Holder insisted that making voter registration easier is "not likely, by itself, to make our elections more susceptible to fraud." Voter fraud will not be tolerated by the Justice Department, he said, adding that "in-person voting fraud is uncommon."

Holder urged his audience to "speak out," "raise awareness about what's at stake," and "urge policymakers at every level to reevaluate our election systems – and to reform them in ways that encourage, not limit, participation."

Much of Holder's speech focused on his department's efforts to safeguard the right to vote.

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As the 2012 presidential election draws closer -- and with Holder's boss scrambling for a second term as president -- Democrats are once again accusing Republicans of trying to limit the right to vote.

On Dec. 1, Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) announced a "new comprehensive effort" to educate voters about their voting rights. That effort includes a Web site that "details what Republicans are doing in regard to voter suppression."

For example, Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats strenuously oppose laws adopted in more than 30 states requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polling place. Republican supporters of photo ID laws say it prevents voter fraud.

On Tuesday, Holder said his Justice Department is now reviewing photo ID laws passed in Texas and South Carolina to see if they meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department also is reviewing early voting procedures in Florida, among other voting changes in that state.

"The reality is that – in jurisdictions across the country – both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common," Holder said.

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