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.
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.