On Election Day, I stood in line along with neighbors for over an hour to vote at my Washington polling place, even though my vote might have made a difference in only one contest, for the local city council.
Similar scenes - many with longer lines - unfolded across the nation, as thousands of Americans showed their determination to have a say despite partisan efforts to make voting more difficult.
President Barack Obama has called for reforms to make voting easier, and Attorney General Eric Holder recently seconded him. But many Republican-led efforts to limit voting, which were blocked or delayed before the election, remain alive in the courts, notably an effort to throw out the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which is pending before the Supreme Court.
That act, which requires prior approval of voting changes in 16 states with histories of discrimination, "remains an indispensable tool for eradicating racial discrimination" at a time when access to voting is threatened "in too many places," Holder said.
His speech got little attention amid negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff and the outpouring of national sorrow over the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. But his proposals deserve serious consideration, and the Republican reaction will test whether the GOP's oft-stated concern about potential voter fraud is simply a means to minimize voting by Democratic-leaning groups.
Holder cited both the Texas voter identification law, requiring limited forms of identification, including some "which could only be obtained if voters could afford to pay for underlying documents," and the state's proposed congressional redistricting plan, which he said "had both the effect and the intent of discriminating against minority voters." Federal courts have blocked both.
He also cited Florida and South Carolina measures, and he called for reforms of voter registration and congressional redistricting procedures using modern technology to make registration easier but also ensure the integrity of the election system.
"By creating a system of automatic, portable registration - in which government officials use existing databases, with appropriate privacy protections, to automatically register every eligible voter in American and enable their registration to move when they do, rather than the current system in which voters must navigate complicated and often-changing voter registration rules - we could not only improve the integrity of our elections, but save precious taxpayer resources," he said.
States should also increase early voting and same-day registration, not limit them, and ensure enough Election Day personnel.
Last March, the Justice Department argued that the Texas voter identification law would reduce minority voting, especially of poor minorities in the state's vast rural areas.
"The state has not met its burden of proving that … the proposed requirement will not have a retrogressive effect," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said. "Additionally, the state has failed to demonstrate why it could not meet its stated goals of ensuring electoral integrity and deterring ineligible voters from voting in a manner that would have avoided this retrogressive effect."
What happened in Texas was not unique.
In Florida, two former top Republican officials recently disclosed that GOP-enacted measures to reduce early voting and complicate registration procedures were explicitly designed to reduce registration and voting by groups that mainly vote Democratic.
Before necessary reforms can be passed, the Supreme Court will hear a case in which Alabama's predominantly white, heavily Republican Shelby County argues the Voting Rights Act's provision requiring federal "pre-clearance" of election changes is outdated.
Unfortunately, analysts fear the court's conservative majority may rule the law is no longer needed. In a 2009 opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether the provision is still "justified by current needs."
In any case, the country needs to upgrade election machinery that is better suited for a nation of 150 million than today's United States of more than 300 million.
Readers can email Carl P. Leubsdorf at firstname.lastname@example.org.