The Washington Post

Eric Holder on how to beat back voter suppressio­n

- Courtland Milloy

A mail-in ballot request form arrived at my home the other day.

“Complete and return the included form,” read the letter from the Maryland State Board of Elections. Or, it continued, I could save time and get the form online. Either way, I could expect to get a ballot well before the start of early voting for the November general election.

For me, the voting system isn’t perfect. But it’s not hard. Maybe that’s because of where I live.

A 2022 report by the Democracy Initiative Education Fund ranked Maryland second, behind Colorado, in election integrity, voter confidence and voter rights. D.C. ranked 10th and Virginia, 11th.

Not bad for the DMV.

But what about those living in states at the bottom of the list — such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, Wisconsin and Arkansas, just to name a few?

As former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. makes clear in his recently published book on voting rights, “Our Unfinished March,” we need free and fair elections for all in this country — or else we’ll all be kissing our voting rights goodbye.

In the book, Holder recalled that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been expanding voting opportunit­ies since the day it was signed, with Congress reauthoriz­ing the act to ensure that progress continued.

That all stopped in 2008, he says, when a record turnout elected Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black president. That’s when Republican­s began pursuing with precision an agenda that focused on trying to rig democracy in their favor, he says.

“Strategica­lly, you can understand where they were coming from,” Holder writes. “President Obama’s election had scared them — as it should have. The most diverse electorate in history had turned out in unpreceden­ted numbers to send an African American senator to the White House; and they knew the country would only become less white in the years ahead. This presented an existentia­l crisis for a Republican Party

whose beliefs increasing­ly no longer aligned with those of the majority of Americans: Sure, they could sweep a midterm here and there, but when the country turned out, when the people voted in substantia­l numbers, they would lose.”

To avoid obsolescen­ce, he writes, Republican­s decided to change the rules of the game. Or just cheat — whatever it took to win.

So how do we save this democracy before it’s too late?

Holder — now the chairman of the National Democratic Redistrict­ing Committee, which fights for fair congressio­nal districts and opposes gerrymande­ring — recommends nothing less than a national makeover: Abolish the filibuster, do away with the electoral college, impose term limits on Supreme Court justices, end gerrymande­ring, make the Senate more representa­tive, make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states with full voting rights in Congress. And that’s for starters.

“But here’s the thing,” he notes, “the principal way to reform those institutio­ns is by passing legislatio­n, and the way to pass legislatio­n is by winning elections, and the way those in favor of democracy are going to win elections is if those contests are a fair fight. So that’s where I’m going to start, with the solutions to the problems plaguing our elections, which boil down to one key principle: making it easier to vote.”

So, Holder suggests, place ballot drop-off locations and drive-through polling sites across the country. Expand voting hours. Open new polling places. Send letters to seniors letting them know how to vote by mail. Pay election workers $17 an hour. Every American would be automatica­lly registered to vote as soon as they turn 18. Everyone gets a voter ID, free.

While you contemplat­e Holder’s suggestion­s, keep in mind that Republican­s are working hard doing just the opposite — having proposed 393 bills across 39 states that would make it harder to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Such as a law in Alabama that requires you to show a driver’s license to vote — while the same legislator­s who passed it tried to shut down Department of Motor Vehicles offices across the state. Or laws in Ohio and Florida that reduced the number of early-voting days from 35 to 11 and 14 to eight, respective­ly — and made sure to ban early voting on Sundays, when Black churches were known to hold “souls to the polls” events.

There are also Republican attempts to take control of the election apparatus. As a report from the nonpartisa­n, nonprofit organizati­on Protect Democracy found, states across the country have introduced bills that would provide partisan, gerrymande­red legislatur­es with more authority over how presidenti­al elections are conducted, allowing them to micromanag­e who is on the voter rolls and how ballots get certified.

“The good news is,” writes Holder, “it remains to be seen whether these laws will achieve their desired ends — because studies have found that Republican attempts to strip people of the franchise can sometimes inspire Democrats to turn out in greater numbers. This isn’t to say the bills won’t flip some elections in favor of Republican­s. … Nonetheles­s, this isn’t a reason to despair. It’s a reason to organize.”

Holder acknowledg­es the enormous efforts and great sacrifices that went into gaining the voting rights that we have. The killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson in Marion, Ala.; the assassinat­ion of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss.; the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelph­ia, Miss. The list of martyrs, going back to the founding of the country, is virtually endless.

But it will all be for naught if the nation collapses.

When it comes to voting in the DMV, we’ve got it relatively easy. The least we can do is exercise that hard-earned right.

“The solutions to the problems plaguing our elections … boil down to one key principle: making it easier to vote.” Eric H. Holder Jr., in his new book, “Our Unfinished March”

 ?? Robb HILL FOR THE Washington POST ?? Carlos Hang uses a ballot drop box in Silver Spring on July 19. Maryland ranks high in election integrity and voter rights.
Robb HILL FOR THE Washington POST Carlos Hang uses a ballot drop box in Silver Spring on July 19. Maryland ranks high in election integrity and voter rights.
 ?? ??
 ?? KRISTOFFER TRIPPLAAR FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Eric H. Holder Jr. now leads the National Democratic Redistrict­ing Committee. He says the expansion of voting opportunit­ies ended amid Republican concern over the election of President Barack Obama.
KRISTOFFER TRIPPLAAR FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Eric H. Holder Jr. now leads the National Democratic Redistrict­ing Committee. He says the expansion of voting opportunit­ies ended amid Republican concern over the election of President Barack Obama.

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