* Patchwork voting system
* "Not a time to restrict the franchise"
BOSTON, Dec 11 Attorney General Eric Holder said
on Tuesday that U.S. election officials should register eligible
voters automatically and take steps to reduce the long lines
Americans encountered in national elections on Nov. 6.
In a speech being given in Boston, Holder became the
highest-ranking official to call for voting changes since
President Barack Obama expressed exasperation with the
hours-long lines during his re-election victory speech last
"Modern technology provides ways to address many of the
problems that impede the efficient administration of elections,"
Holder said, according to a copy of the speech obtained by
Reuters before delivery.
The United States has a patchwork election system, relying
on local officials in 50 states and the District of Columbia to
process the paperwork needed to register - without the use of a
national ID card that some other democracies use.
Registering to vote is a necessary step to be eligible to
cast a ballot in almost every U.S. state, and some jurisdictions
require the paperwork weeks before Election Day.
All the paperwork is handled at the local or state level,
and new paperwork is needed when someone moves.
Holder said the system was needlessly complex and riddled
with mistakes, resulting in 60 million adult U.S. citizens not
being eligible to cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential
election because they had not filed the right paperwork.
By coordinating existing databases, the government could
register "every eligible voter in America" and ensure that
registration did not lapse during a move, Holder said at the
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
An overhaul would likely require approval from Congress, a
significant obstacle because of the view by many Republicans
that easing registration requirements could increase voter
Obama shone a spotlight on the subject hours after winning a
second four-year term. In his victory speech, he told those who
waited in long lines to vote, "By the way, we have to fix that."
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a
hearing on "the state of the right to vote" on Dec. 19.
Holder, as the chief U.S. law enforcement official, has some
limited powers to enforce voting protections. The first black
attorney general, he has called improving the system a natural
extension of the civil rights movement that in the 1960s
eliminated ended many barricades for black voters.
"The arc of American history has bent towards expanding the
franchise," he said in Boston. "This generation must be true to
that more inclusive history. This is our time; it is not a time
to restrict the franchise."
To reduce long lines, Holder said polling places should have
an adequate number of voting machines and be open for additional
days - another difficult challenge because thousands of local
officials make those decisions independently.