Holder, Michelle Obama weigh in on voting rights at DC dinner
September 23rd, 2012
12:16 AM ET
2 years ago

Holder, Michelle Obama weigh in on voting rights at DC dinner

Washington (CNN) - Attorney General Eric Holder and first lady Michelle Obama weighed in Saturday on a battleground in the 2012 election: voting rights.

Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Gala, Holder said voting rights are more than a partisan issue, while Obama recalled the pains many withstood in the civil rights struggle. The right to cast a ballot, she said, is significant, important, and should be protected.

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Holder said he pledged to "not allow the arc of American history, which has always been about expanding the electorate, to be halted.

"Following in the tradition of Democratic and Republican attorneys general, we will not stand by and allow the voting rights of American citizens to be impinged by specious arguments and by those who seek naked political advantage," he continued. "This is not a political issue."

Rather, Holder said, "This is an American issue and goes to the heart of who we say we are as a nation. The right to vote will be protected."

Fourteen states have restrictions currently in effect which “have the potential to impact the 2012 election,” according to a review of laws and executive orders by The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Its September 7 analysis said additional laws are pending in six states.

Some Republicans have pressured Holder to stop Justice Department investigations and lawsuits into voting-related practices in several states. At a Congressional hearing this summer, Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, said "We are seeing voter registration fraud and we're seeing voter fraud."

Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona, described the Justice Department's efforts as "seeking headlines opposing voter ID laws that an overwhelming majority of Americans support."

The National Conference of State Legislatures characterizes the voter identification laws in five states as "strict photo" ID and says two additional states could join that rank this fall. Six other states have less stringent photo identification laws, the organization says.

Holder was at the ceremony receiving an award, and the first lady's comments came during her keynote address.

Recalling the civil rights struggle, Michelle Obama said, "The connection between our laws and our lives isn't always as obvious as it was 50 or 150 years ago. And as a result, it's sometimes easy to assume that the battles in our courts and our legislatures have all been won. "

Voting, she suggested, is taken for granted by too many who do not appreciate what "so many folks sacrificed so much so that we could make our voices heard."

"Today, how many of us have asked someone whether they're going to vote, and they say, 'No, I'm too busy - and besides, I voted last time,' or, 'Nah, it's not like my vote is going to make a difference,'" Obama said.

"So when it comes to casting our ballots, it cannot just be 'we the people' who had time to spare on Election Day,” she added. “Can't just be 'we the people' who really care about politics, or 'we the people' who happened to drive by a polling place on the way home from work. It must be all of us."

She did not specifically address voting laws, but stressed the importance of registering people to vote, calling it "the movement of our era."

"We cannot let anyone discourage us from casting our ballots," Obama said. "We cannot let anyone make us feel unwelcome in the voting booth. It is up to us to make sure that in every election, every voice is heard and every vote is counted."

The first lady specifically recalled the effort made by a founding Congressional Black Caucus member, Georgia Rep. John Lewis.

At a civil rights march, Lewis, she said, "faced down that row of billy clubs on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, risking his life so we could one day cast our ballots."

The congressman recalled extraordinary measures once employed to keep people away from the polls - such as pass a "so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax" - in a passionate speech this year at the Democratic National Convention.

"Today," he continued in that speech, "it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials who are trying to stop some people from voting."

Among the states that have enacted or are pursuing changes to their voting laws are Florida, which this summer began an effort to remove ineligible voters; Ohio, which scrapped several days of pre-election in-person voting for most voters; and New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas, which have passed photo identification laws.

Several states considering changes to their procedures are required to submit plans to the Justice Department for approval, under a law affecting states with a history of discrimination.

– CNN's Carol Cratty, Steve Brusk, and Shirley Henry contributed to this report

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. tammyk tammy

    Democracy is not a spectator sport. VOTE.

    September 23, 2012 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  2. normajean @ verizon ,com

    you repubs print only what you want to....well what I just said ...not prointed is going to come up again whether you print it or not......If VOTERS can be denied a constutional right then so can you guys that carry guns Amendment XV for voters...Anendment 2 for guns..........We will not forget this and you WILLL hear from us aagain!!!!

    September 23, 2012 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  3. tammyk tammy

    I am thankful to all of the suffragists who risked ridicule, persecution, and jail time to ensure that I would have the right to vote. Today, I am also thankful to all of the attorneys who continue the fight to make sure there is no impingement on the rights of any voters.

    September 23, 2012 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  4. John Oboho

    Voter supression is a grand conspiracy against the middle class by the Republicans,it is a war.Say NO,to voter supression.Get registered,& have your say at the polling booth.You must win this war,every vote will count,don't stay at home,get out and win this war.

    September 23, 2012 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  5. RudyG

    If you didn't have dead people voting in some states you would have more credibility!

    September 23, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  6. Jon Iordanides

    Using, exploiting and undermining "Afro Americanism" as a "Trojan Horse" and within? The Maoist Ideology. This will undermine Afro-Americanism. This "vote" is the very weakest example of Maoist agent deflection by duping into a false impassioned issue- the right to vote- and specifically regarding the shame of the Afro-American experience. The notion is preposterous as the "HAVA" Act IS pure Maoist policy / and Mr Eric Holder is a laughing stock as he profoundly obstructs all justice upon a hush money of some $700 BILLION – thrown at AIG- and our largest financial firms- to "TARP" from scrutiny the ACTUAL CAPITAL CRIME- the attempted overthrow of The United States into Maoism- and the conspiracy therein. No. Not duped here. No accountability for the Bush administration WHATSOEVER! Utterly preposterous Mr. Holder is getting awards- when he should be in custody! For Capital Espionage to serve Red China and the Soviet Union- just like Mrs Obamao! Get a CLUE- or CUSTODY! And indict Mr Holder immediately!

    September 23, 2012 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  7. Ronald G. Kirchem

    Thank you, Ms. First Lady, for your grace, beauty, and intelligence.

    September 23, 2012 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  8. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    God Bless the First Lady!

    September 23, 2012 02:07 am at 2:07 am |
  9. Thomas

    Voting, she suggested, is taken for granted by too many who do not appreciate what "so many folks sacrificed so much so that we could make our voices heard."

    Maybe we need purple ink on our right index finger to remind us of how lucky we are , and how important our participation is necessary to keep our rights as " We The People " not " We The Corporation " .

    September 23, 2012 02:51 am at 2:51 am |
  10. MAC

    What is wrong with someone proving they are the person legally registered to vote. The news here in Colorado down played that only 10% of the 4000 people questioned about heir citizenship and had to submit proof they were a US citizens asked to be dropped from the voting registration list, but that is 400 people who voted that were not citizens. How many more are there?

    September 23, 2012 05:27 am at 5:27 am |
  11. Marie

    So – when should the public start seeing Mr Attorney General et al staff – doing something about any of this.. only a case or two have we seen anything that you are doing about it.. its getting rather close to the election.. don't you think it is about time action be taken.. just asking !!!

    September 23, 2012 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  12. c

    Wouldn't want our hommies not to be able to vote.

    September 23, 2012 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  13. Jim

    So, should we be able to go into Canada or Mexico as non citizens of their country and vote there? Give me a break. You need an ID to do just about anything in this country. If they don't have one today, they have plenty of time before the election to get one. Pathetic...

    September 23, 2012 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  14. Harleigh Kiffer

    Still trying to get the dead to vote.

    September 23, 2012 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  15. Yosemite Sam

    "Today," he continued in that speech, "it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials who are trying to stop some people from voting."
    ----------------------------
    The GOP leadership of yesterday bear no resemblance to the GOP leadership of today. The GOP leadership is lashing out desperately as the party rapidly loses relevance and any useful purpose.

    September 23, 2012 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  16. orlop

    All Americans have a right to vote however they must prove who they are and that they are eligible to vote ( some people have many properties and register to vote at all of them ). Everyone should be issued a photo ID when they register to vote. Anyone who does not have one should just be required to re-register. Why is everyone so up in arms about this? If it is that much of an inconvenience to re-register than you really don't care about voting. Being a contributing citizen requires effort.

    September 23, 2012 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  17. Rick McDaniel

    They aren't interested in rights.....they are interested in the ability to commit voter fraud.

    September 23, 2012 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  18. danita

    Why are they talking about this back in the day crap.... Sick of this mess... If you don't have sense to vote in 2012 then you just don't need to vote. More than likely you wouldn't know what you are voting for....

    September 23, 2012 07:52 am at 7:52 am |
  19. danita

    Also who has respect for Holder? He's another big lier in Washington...

    September 23, 2012 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  20. Gurgyl

    Mitchell's, can you ask your hubby to send those busses here....middle class under the bus...

    September 23, 2012 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  21. GEdwards

    Any doubt that people were required to show a photo ID to attend?

    Why does she hate the poor, the elderly, and minorities?

    September 23, 2012 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  22. 200 TON HAMMER

    Thanks mitt romney handlers for showing your hate for poor people because no matter what mitt romney want win

    September 23, 2012 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  23. easyrhino

    Holder talking about voter rights? That's rich!

    Isn't Holder the same AG that refused to prosecute the Black Panthers for voter intimidation case despite Bartie Bull, a former civil rights lawyer who was serving as a poll watcher at the polling station where the incident occurred, submitting an affidavit at Justice's request supporting the lawsuit, stating that he considered it to have been the most severe instance of voter intimidation he had ever en countered.

    September 23, 2012 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  24. vowel movement

    The Pbamanistas fear mongers are at it again

    Holder needs to learn American law and Michelle needs to butt out since no one voted for her

    September 23, 2012 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  25. carlsousa

    I don't understand. You mean that ID's are only for specific people and that certain people are not being given the opportunity to get an ID? That would be the only way it would be discriminatory. For almost anything else an ID is required. Buying beer and alcohol. Buying cigarettes. Drive a car. Cashing a check at a bank. Hospital emergency room. As brought to light in the last presidential election, voter fraud has run rampant in the US. Dead people voting is wrong. Groups registering in other states besides their own. This should not be happening and can be diminished with ID's. ID's have nothing to do with race since everyone has the same opportunity to get one. Ok, so maybe it will cost the price of one or two packs of cigarettes to get an ID. Maybe it will cost the price of a couple of six packs of drinks to get an ID. Maybe it will cost people to get up and go to the DMV or wherever they need to get to get an ID. Voter fraud needs to come under control and this is a good start to make that happen.

    September 23, 2012 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
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