Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton penned a blistering op-ed on Saturday in which she declared the red state of Alabama the "front line" of the voting rights battle.
The piece, published on AL.com, calls out the state's Republican governor, Robert J. Bentley, for allowing 31 driver's license offices to close there at the end of this month, which would disproportionately affect voters of color seeking the required ID to vote. Clinton called the move "just dead wrong."
"Governor Bentley is insisting that the closings had nothing to do with race, but the facts tell a different story. Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and John Lewis bled, it's hard to believe Americans are still forced to fight for their right to vote—especially in places where the civil rights movement fought so hard all those years ago. The parallels are inescapable: Alabama is living through a blast from the Jim Crow past," wrote Clinton.
"Institutionalized racism doesn't just happen. People make it happen," she added.
Voter ID has been a contentious issue, particularly for communities of color, for two straight election cycles. Although some voter ID laws have been struck down, others have popped up to take their place in states across the country, some of which could play a vital role in determining the next president.
Minority, youth and senior voters are widely perceived as the groups most likely not to possess a state-sanctioned ID. The fact that these group constitute, to a large extent, traditional Democratic constituencies has not been lost on critics of the laws, like Clinton.
"Governor Bentley and the legislature should listen to their constituents. Those offices should stay open – and not just one day a month," writes Clinton, who also highlights the fact that Alabama is one of 17 states without early voting, which has been a boon to Democrats in two straight general elections.
The former secretary of state also singles out her 2016 GOP rivals Jeb Bush (for opposing re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act), Marco Rubio (for downplaying the discriminatory nature of voter ID laws), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich for restricting early voting in the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election. According to Clinton, 77% of the voters in Ohio's most populous county were African-American that year.
"What part of democracy are all these candidates afraid of?" writes Clinton.
The Democratic front-runner proposes the restoration of the full protection of the Voting Rights Act (via the Voting Rights Advancement Act), nationwide early voting, and automatic universal voter registration, which she first advocated in June.
Although the topic of voting rights has not been center stage during the 2016 campaign so far, Clinton has spoken out early and often on the issue. And there is evidence that change is taking hold on the state level. California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed into law "The New Motor Voter Act", which would automatically register all state citizens to vote when they register for a driver's license. Although voters still have the option to opt-out, the legislation has been hailed as a positive step towards a more open election process.
“The New Motor Voter Act will make our democracy stronger by removing a key barrier to voting for millions of California citizens,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla who sponsored the bill. “Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process.”
On the other hand, Kansas Republicans are under fire for an effort to purge over 30,000 voters off their state's rolls. When Clinton publicly criticized Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for the plan, he claimed “Hillary is getting her pantsuit in a twist over nothing."
On Saturday, Clinton challenged "leaders in every party, at every level of government, to be on the right side of history" and called for the start of a voting rights "movement" in Alabama.