Attorney General Eric Holder slammed Ohio officials on Monday for moving forward with new restrictions on early voting, calling the move a "major step backward."
"The early voting times targeted for cancellation, including weeknight and Sunday hours, previously provided critical opportunities for many people to get to the polls," Holder said in a video posted to the Department of Justice website.
He warned that the change would "disproportionately affect people with childcare responsibilities, hourly salaries, and reduced access to transportation - people who may have difficulty getting the polls at any other time, and who are much more likely to be low income or minority individuals."
Ohio was permitted to implement the restrictions after the Supreme Court last week stayed lower court decisions that threw out the state's plan, which had been passed by the Republican-controlled legislature. The new plan reduced the number of early voting days from 35 to 28, but state officials argued that the move was not overly restrictive. "Ohio offers more early-voting options than 41 other states and the District of Columbia," the state contended in a petition to the high court, according to the Washington Post.
Holder, though, warned that the move could have the effect of disenfranchising thousands of voters. In 2012, he noted, "tens of thousands" of Ohio voters availed themselves of the voting opportunities that state officials have now eliminated.
"It is a major step backward to allow these reductions to early voting to go into effect," Holder said. "Those state officials who seek to impose these restrictions must justify clearly, factually, and empirically why they are necessary."
States, Holder said, should preserve access for all who are eligible to vote, not just "those who can afford to miss work, or those who can afford to pay for childcare."
Ohio's decision to limit voting times, he said, is "out of step with our history of continually expanding the franchise. It is contrary to our fundamental values of equality, opportunity, and inclusion. And it is an affront to millions who have marched and fought and too often died to make real America's most basic promise."
He called on election officials across the country to consider their place in history as they mull decisions that could affect the voting rights of Americans.
"Throughout our nation's history, we have repeatedly seen that there is simply no good reason - no good reason - to reduce voting access," he said. "Indeed, the arc of our nation's history has, until recently, been to expand access to the ballot."
Holder has made the fight against Republican efforts to restrict voting a centerpiece of his tenure at the Justice Department.
The attorney general, who's been a member of President Obama's cabinet since 2009, said last month that he would resign from the administration after his successor is confirmed. At an event with the president announcing that decision, Holder said he'd proudly "fought to protect the most sacred of American rights - the right to vote."
Other administration officials have been ever more blunt than Holder in criticizing the voting restrictions pushed by the GOP. In February, Vice President Biden pressed Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act, parts of which had been struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court, and he suggested voter ID laws and other attempts to limit ballot access were a product of racism.
"These guys never go away. Hatred never, never goes away," he said. "The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason."
Republicans have justified voter ID laws as a safeguard against voter fraud, but Democrats say there is almost no evidence that such a problem is widespread.
Even some Republicans have taken their party to task on the issue. "So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, 'We don't want black people to vote because they're voting Democrat; we don't want Hispanic people to vote because they're voting Democrat,'" said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, last month. "We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don't we be the party that's for people voting, for voting rights?"