Holder, who is leading a national redistricting reform effort, accused Republicans of trying to suppress potential voters who are less likely to support them. He made the remarks during the National Action Network’s annual convention in New York City on Wednesday.
“Some Republicans have declared, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, change the rules.’ Make it more difficult for those least likely to support Republican candidates to vote,” he said. “This is done with the knowledge that by simply depressing the votes of certain groups, not even winning the majority vote of these groups, elections can in fact be effective.”
“The attempts in certain states to make even registration more difficult are shameful,” he added.
Holder went on to cite a 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office showing that voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout among young and African-American voters.
“If one were to try to find vote fraud or a rigged election system, that is exactly where it is,” he said.
The comments come after Arkansas’ governor signed a voter ID bill last month. Iowa’s governor is considering a similar measure, and New Hampshire is also contemplating legislation to toughen its proof of residency requirements. There are laws in 34 states requiring voters to produce identification when they vote.
Holder addressed President Donald Trump’s unsupported claim that millions voted illegally in the 2016 election, saying the president was fueling the perception that elections lacked integrity.
“And with recent claims by Mr. Trump of ‘rigged elections’ based on fraud ― again, without any proof, save the bluster of the candidate ― this mistaken belief in voter fraud becomes almost hard-wired,” he said.
Such a perception, he added, makes voter suppression efforts easier.
“The nation’s attention and laws should not be focused on these phantom, illegal voters,” he said, adding that officials should instead focus on registering eligible voters.
Holder acknowledged the U.S. voting system is far from perfect. He pointed to a 2012 Pew report ― the same one cited by Trump to justify his claim of widespread voter fraud ― noting that 1 in every 8 voter registrations in the country is outdated.
“This is not a result of people trying to game the system. It is an indication that the system itself is inadequate. That the system itself is at fault,” Holder said.
He also called for more states to adopt automatic voter registration, so voters are automatically registered to vote whenever they have any meaningful interaction with the DMV.
Oregon became the first state in the country to implement the system last year and saw major gains in youth turnout and registration by people of color, according to one report.