WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday criticized the Justice Department's decision to challenge new voter ID laws in several states, saying it shows the Obama Administration is more concerned with Democrats winning in November than protecting against election fraud.
"The Department of Justice has embarrassed itself," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. "The partisan bias is obvious."
Thomas Perez, the department's chief civil rights enforcer, denied any partisan bias or motivation in bringing federal court challenges under the Voting Rights Act to recently passed voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina.
In both states, Republican-controlled legislatures passed laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification in order to vote. The Justice Department indicated this week it also is looking at whether Pennsylvania's new voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 law for ensuring minorities' right to vote.
"Our philosophy has been very straight forward," Perez told a House Judiciary subcommittee that Franks chairs. "We want to enforce laws. There's a robust debate in this country, and we think we need to continue to have that debate and we do our level best to ensure that every eligible voter casts their vote and has access to the ballot."
Perez said the department believes that both the new Texas and South Carolina laws will hinder many citizens, particularly minorities, in exercising their right to vote. He said the department's position under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder on voter ID laws is no different now than it was under former Republican President George W. Bush. He read a quote from Bush's attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to make his point.
"'We will not hesitate to use the tools available to us if these laws are used improperly,'" Perez said, quoting Mukasey. "That is not Attorney General Holder, that's Attorney General Mukasey, and we completely agree."
Another Republican, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, echoed Franks' concerns, saying the decision to contest the Texas and South Carolina laws shows insensitivity by the Justice Department to voter fraud.
"There are a lot of individuals out there who are happy to break the law, who don't even understand it breaks the law," King said of voter fraud. "...We're seeing voter fraud that's pretty prevalent out there."
Election administrators and academics who monitor the issue said in-person fraud is rare because someone would have to impersonate a registered voter and risk arrest. A 2008 Supreme Court case drew detailed briefs from the federal government, 10 states and other groups that identified only nine potential impersonation cases over the span of several years, according to a tally by the Brennan Center at New York University.