Led by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, we are fighting back against Republican-sponsored voter identification laws and other voter suppression schemes that – left unchallenged – could deny millions of Americans their fundamental right to vote this year. All who love America and our democratic system have an important stake in the outcome of this struggle.

Provisional ballots and other electoral reforms enacted after the 2000 debacle in Florida were very important in allowing the true will of the American people to be expressed in President Obama’s 2008 victory.

Then, after the Republican victories in 2008, their governors and state legislatures began to make voting more difficult for minorities, the elderly, students and the disabled.

In Florida, an onerous new voter registration law with criminal penalties is being challenged in court by the League of Women Voters. A judicial decision in that case is pending.

Elsewhere, a judge in Wisconsin has blocked that state’s new voter identification law, declaring it unconstitutional. In Minnesota, however, Republicans are seeking to bypass Democratic Governor Mark Dayton’s veto of the Minnesota Legislature’s voter identification law by means of a state constitutional amendment.

Republicans claim that they are just seeking to protect the electoral process against voter fraud with these new laws. Yet, little or no evidence of actual voter fraud has been produced in any of these states.

The Republicans will not admit, of course, that their goal is to deny President Obama a second term. It must be purely coincidental that these jurisdictions are key “battleground states” that Barack Obama won in 2008 – and wants to win again this year.

Whatever the Republicans’ motivations may be, the Brennan Center for Justice has warned us that these new laws could make it more difficult for up to five million Americans to vote this year.
If that were to occur, it would be a travesty on our democracy even more damaging to the legitimacy of our government than George Bush’s 2000 selection by the United States Supreme Court.

This is why it is so important that President Obama nominated Eric Holder to be U.S. Attorney General and Thomas Perez of Maryland to head the Civil Rights Division.

Needless to say, there was little voting rights enforcement by the Justice Department during the Presidency of George Bush. Under the leadership of President Obama, Attorney General Holder and Assistant Attorney General Perez, however, the Department of Justice has rediscovered its duty.

Last December, the Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s new voter ID law under provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that require some states to gain “pre-clearance” of measures that affect their citizens’ right to vote. More recently, a proposed Texas law was blocked by the Department of Justice on the same grounds.

These actions by our Attorney General have infuriated some of my Republican colleagues in the Congress, accusing the Department of “overreaching.” We should respond that he and his Department are just doing their duty to our country.

Consider this.

In Texas, there are roughly 800,000 Americans who do not have the state-issued proof of identity that the proposed state law would require. Many, if not most, of these Americans (many of them voters in the past) are of Hispanic or African American heritage, students, the elderly and the most impoverished.

In response to the Texas proposal, Attorney General Holder recently observed in a BET interview that “We asked them to show us the statistics that prove that there is voter fraud, and we got nothing. Their voter ID laws deal with a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“What we’re talking about here is a constitutional right,” he continued. “This is not a privilege.”

From the depths of my heart, I agree.

At times, I remind my children of our ancestor, Mr. Scipio Rhame, who, in the South Carolina of 1868, overcame hardships and danger to register to vote. I tell them that “No one gave Scipio Rhame his citizenship. He reached out and grabbed it.”

I am more proud than I can express that this strong Black man’s blood runs in my veins. Yet, the harsh reality is that later generations of my family were denied the power of the ballot in the years after Reconstruction.

This is our watch, my friends.

We cannot allow that kind of devastating reversal in our rights as citizens to ever be repeated.

Today, we are the Americans who must stand up and fight back.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.