Justice Dept. will intervene in challenges to Ohio and Wisconsin's voting laws
Attorney General Eric Holder (AFP)

By Brendan O'Brien and Kim Palmer

(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice plans to intervene in court challenges to laws that restrict voting in Wisconsin and Ohio, Attorney General Eric Holder said in remarks released on Tuesday.

Holder told ABC news during an unaired portion of an interview last week that the Justice Department intends to file in both cases, but did not elaborate on how or when it would do so, according to a transcript of the remarks provided by the department.

Wisconsin and Ohio are among several states that have been forced to defend changes to voting protocol. Judges in recent months have overturned photo identification laws in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, and the Justice Department has intervened in similar cases challenging voting laws in Texas and North Carolina.

Republicans argue tighter rules are needed to prevent voter fraud, while Democrats say the revisions target likely Democratic voters such as minorities, the poor and college students.

Holder had already voiced his displeasure with a 2012 Wisconsin law that requires voters to have identification to cast a ballot, saying last month that it "erected significant barriers to equal access without serving any legitimate government interest."

A federal judge ruled Wisconsin's law unconstitutional in April and Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing the ruling and objected on Tuesday to federal intervention.

"At a time when an immigration crisis is rattling the nation, the Attorney General is choosing to spend taxpayer money to meddle in a state law that does nothing more than ask a voter to show a photo ID," Van Hollen said in a statement.

Ohio Republican lawmakers in February passed a law eliminating the first week of the state's five-week early voting period when people could register and vote the same day. The American Civil Liberties Union in May filed a federal lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by Eric Walsh)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]