It’s easy to get inured to stories about voting restrictions. The imposition of new hurdles, intended to keep more Americans from participating in their own democracy, has been ongoing for about three years, and the tactics have become so common in so much of the country, maintaining a sense of outrage is simply exhausting.
But common or not, the outrageousness hasn’t changed. The very idea that a major political party in a modern democracy has decided to give itself an electoral advantage by systemically and deliberately blocking voter access should be called what it is: a genuine national scandal.
Given this, it was heartening to see the issue get the spotlight by way of the president’s bully pulpit.
The right to vote is under threat – more now than any other point since the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965, President Obama announced Friday.“The stark and simple truth is this – the right to vote is threatened today – in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Obama said to the crowd at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network conference. […]The president condemned the recent surge in changes to voting laws and the Republicans leading the charge to curb access. Calling out voter ID measures, cuts to early and weekend voting, and restrictive laws on the books across the country, President Obama said the architects behind the changes are no longer operating under the pretext of battling voter fraud – it’s all partisan.
“[T]he real voter fraud,” Obama said, “is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.”
The president added, “If your strategy depends on fewer people showing up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength, it’s a sign of weakness. What kind of political platform is that? Why would you make that part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?”
And in case that wasn’t quite clear enough, Obama went on to say these efforts have “not been led by both parties. It’s been led by the Republican Party.”
The Republican response to the presidential criticism was disheartening.
“They want to create an issue out of nothing,” the Republican National Committee’s Sean Spicer said. “The bottom line is, they know they’re on the wrong side of the issues that are important with voters, and the only way they can win is by scaring their base into voting.”
First, I’ve seen quite a bit of polling and when it comes to which party is on the “wrong side of the issues,” it’s not the Dems who are struggling. Second, the most sweeping voting restrictions since the Jim Crow era, imposed on citizens for no reason other than brazen electoral scheming, is not “nothing.”
Zack Roth had a good piece on the bigger picture.
To voting rights advocates, the new level of engagement from top Democrats, especially Obama himself, is welcome indeed.“Nothing is more important than the American people hearing the president of the United States bringing the full passion and power of his voice and his position to the issue of promoting voting rights and an open democracy for every citizen,” said Barbara Arnwine, the president of the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.It’s not just talk, either. The Democratic National Committee recently launched the Voter Expansion Project, which aims to push back against restrictive voting laws by registering new voters and supporting laws that expand access to the ballot.Attorney General Eric Holder has long been out front on the issue. After the Supreme Court badly weakened the Voting Rights Act last summer in the Shelby County ruling, Holder directed new Justice Department resources to voting rights cases, including filing challenges to the Texas and North Carolina laws. And in speeches, he has frequently condemned efforts to make voting harder.But for Obama, it’s a notable shift in tone.
The entirety of the president’s speech is online here.