The Justice Department today joined legal disputes over new voting rules in Wisconsin and Ohio — restrictions that Attorney General Eric Holder called "misguided attempts to fix a system that isn't broken.”
Government lawyers urged a federal appeals court to uphold a lower court ruling that struck down Wisconsin's new voter ID law, and they opposed Ohio rules that limit early voting and same-day registration.
The Wisconsin law, passed in 2011, imposes a photo ID requirement for in-person and absentee voting. The previous law allowed voters to cast a ballot simply by stating their names and addresses. A lower court said there was little evidence that Wisconsin had a history of voter impersonation fraud, and it said the new law would undermine public confidence in the election process as much as it promote it.
"Many eligible voters would no longer be able to vote or would encounter significant obstacles in order to vote," the Justice Department said in its filing in the Wisconsin case, now before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the Ohio case, DOJ said the new restrictions would make it harder for African Americans to register, vote, and have their ballots counted because of such factors as lack of access to transportation, less flexibility for time off from work, and family responsibilities. Among the challenged provisions are a cutback in early voting, especially on Sundays.
In both cases, the government relied on provisions of the Voting Rights Act that remain in force despite the Supreme Court's ruling last year that gutted the requirement for some states to get clearance in advance before changing election procedures.
First published July 30 2014, 12:54 PM
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He has been covering the Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court since March 1993. Williams was also a key reporter on the Microsoft anti-trust trial and Judge Jackson's decision.
... Expand Bio
Prior to joining NBC, Williams served as a press official on Capitol Hill for many years. In 1986 he joined the Washington, D.C. staff of then Congressman Dick Cheney as press secretary and a legislative assistant. In 1989, when Cheney was named Assistant Secretary of Defense, Williams was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. While in that position, Williams was named Government Communicator of the Year in 1991 by the National Association of Government Communicators.
A native of Casper, Wyo. and a 1974 graduate of Stanford University, Williams was a reporter and news director at KTWO-TV and Radio in Casper from 1974 to 1985. Working with the Radio-Television News Directors Association, for which he served as a member of its board of directors, he successfully lobbied the Wyoming Supreme Court to permit broadcast coverage of its proceedings and twice sued Wyoming judges over pre-trial exclusion of reporters from the courtroom. For these efforts, he received a First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.