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Biden urges Dems: Stand up for voting rights

In a new video first seen by msnbc, the veep blasts GOP efforts to make voting harder. Democrats aim to use the issue to energize supporters this fall.
Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden speaks at press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on March 19, 2014.

In a new online video, Vice President Joe Biden blasts ongoing Republican efforts to make voting more difficult, and urges supporters to join the growing effort to push back. It's the latest sign that Democrats aim to use the issue to energize their core voters this fall.

"If someone had said to me 10 years ago I had to make a pitch for protecting voting rights today, I would have said 'you got to be kidding,'" Biden says in the video, unveiled Monday morning by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and given to msnbc for an exclusive first look.

But the Supreme Court's decision last year to "cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act," Biden says, "opened the floodgates to voter suppression efforts nationwide." He specifically calls out Texas's strict voter ID law, North Carolina's sweeping and restrictive voting law, and recent cuts to early and weekend voting in Ohio and Wisconsin.

The video promotes a DNC project, announced recently by President Bill Clinton, that aims to fight voting restrictions, advocate for laws that expand access to the ballot, and promote voter registration.

But its more important goal may be to use the voting rights issue to motivate base Democratic voters -- especially African-Americans and students, who are often the target of voting restrictions -- to get to the polls in November. In recent midterm elections, those groups have often failed to turn out, giving Republicans an edge.

Increasingly, Democrats are framing the issue in stark, partisan terms. On a call with reporters last week, DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee said of the Republican campaign to limit access to the ballot: "It is crass, it is purely political, it is undemocratic."

The notion that GOP voting restrictions could backfire by making their targets more determined to vote than ever may be well-founded. There'sevidence it happened in 2012, when blacks voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time ever, after several key states made voting harder.

Democrats also are pouring resources into electing voting rights champions in several key secretary of state races. And Attorney General Eric Holder has named fighting restrictive voting laws as a top Justice Department priority.

President Obama has been less outspoken on the issue than his vice president and attorney general. After some voters waited eight hours or more to cast a ballot in 2012, he appointed a high-level presidential panel to come up with ideas for how to make elections run more smoothly. But he has sometimes seemed to downplay the problem, telling msnbc's Chris Mathews in an interview late last year: "[I]f people feel engaged enough and have a sense of a stake in our democracy, you know, you’ll be able to vote."

Biden also is rekindling his long-dormant Twitter account to aid Democratic candidates this year, TIME reported.