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Attorney General to speak on voting rights in South Carolina

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General Eric Holder plans to deliver a speech on voting rights on Monday at a Martin Luther King holiday rally in South Carolina, a state where just weeks ago his Justice Department blocked a new voter identification law.

Holder plans to attend a rally sponsored by the civil rights group National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the state capitol building in Columbia, S.C., according to a statement from the NAACP.

That was where lawmakers approved the tough new law that required voters to present identification to cast a ballot, which conservatives argue is needed to help prevent voter fraud.

But critics of laws like the one passed in the state argue that citizens should not have to present identification to exercise their basic right to vote, which they say is unlike requiring identification for privileges like driving.

"The photo identification law that passed through the South Carolina State House last year was an affront to the values that Dr. King stood for," NAACP President and Chief Executive Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement.

Holder's appearance will come just days before South Carolina voters go to the polls to decide on their choice for the Republican presidential nomination. The primary contest in the traditionally conservative state is on January 21.

Republican Governor Nikki Haley signed into law in May 2011 a measure that says voters must show a driver's license, passport or military identification along with their voter registration card in order to vote.

Under the law, anyone who wants to vote but lacks photo identification must get a new voter registration card with a photo. A birth certificate can be used to prove identity.

The Justice Department blocked the South Carolina law, finding it could harm the right to vote of tens of thousands of people. It noted that just over a third of the state's minorities who are registered voters did not have a driver's license. The state plans to fight in court to save its law.

Obama lost South Carolina in the 2008 presidential race by a nine-point margin to Republican opponent John McCain. The NAACP has argued the new law would have hurt tens of thousands of minority voters, who have largely backed Obama.

Under the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, certain states like South Carolina must seek approval from the Justice Department or the federal courts for changes made to state voting laws and boundaries for voting districts.

(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh)

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