DOJ backs legal challenges to Ohio, Wisconsin voting laws

The Justice Department on Wednesday put its weight behind two lawsuits challenging state voting laws in Ohio and Wisconsin, calling the measures “restrictive" and "pernicious."

“These two states’ voting laws represent the latest, misguided attempts to fix a system that isn’t broken," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "These restrictive state laws threaten access to the ballot box." 

Holder and the Justice Department filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to Wisconsin's voter identification law, which is currently on appeal. 

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In Ohio, the department filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit challenging a law that places restrictions on registering and voting on the same day and scales back early voting hours.

The two filings are the latest in the DOJ effort to combat what it sees as restrictive voting laws being enacted around the country after the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act last year. 

The court found the criteria used to determine which states and localities must receive federal approval for changes to voting laws to be outdated.

The court left it to Congress to update those standards, but lawmakers have yet to pass legislation updating the Voting Rights Act.

A federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s voter identification law in April. It is currently before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Justice Department argues that the law discriminates against African-American and Hispanic voters and violates the 14th Amendment by putting an unreasonable burden on voters. 

In the Ohio case, the Justice Department alleges that the state incorrectly interpreted Section 2 of the Voting Right Act, which bars voting laws that discriminate based on race, color or language group. DOJ noted that the section bans any laws that restrict "the right to vote on account of a person's race, color or membership in a language minority group." 

The Justice Department last year sued the states of Texas and North Carolina over their voter identification laws and other restrictions on early voting. The department also sued Texas over a redistricting plan approved in 2011.