Hillary Clinton Attacks GOP for Gutting Voting Rights and Lays Out 6 Major Reforms

Hillary Clinton slammed Republican governors and the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority for undermining voting rights in America, especially for people of color, the poor and students, in a speech Thursday at a historic black university where she called for expanding the vote.

“Today, Republicans are deliberately and systematically trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting. What part of democracy are they afraid of?” Clinton said, noting how the GOP in states like Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin intentionally complicated the process—especially after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act two years ago.

“Forty years after [African-American Texas congresswoman] Barbara Jordan fought to extend the Voting Rights Act, its heart has been ripped out,” she said, speaking at Texas Southern University in Houston. “I wish we could hear her speak up for the student who has to wait hours for his or her right to vote; for the grandmother who is turned away at the polls because her driver’s license expired; for the father who has done time and paid his debt to society but still hasn’t gotten his rights back….

“We need a Supreme Court that cares more about protecting the right to vote of a person, than the right to buy an election of a corporation.”

Clinton’s speech on voting rights was more forceful and specific than anything in her 2008 presidential campaign. She criticized four of her 2016 GOP opponents for their extreme records on voting rights, as a prelude to pledging to support a half-dozen major reforms that would significantly open up the process.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who launched his presidential campaign this week, had signed laws “that a federal court said were written to discriminate against minorities,” she said. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cut early voting and made it harder for college students to vote. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed early voting legislation. And Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor in 2000 when a “deeply flawed purge” removed tens of thousands of legal non-white voters, contributing to George W. Bush’s appointment to the presidency by the Supreme Court.

What follows are six proposals Clinton said are needed to restore voting rights.

1. Republican propaganda must stop. She called on the GOP to stop “fear-mongering a phantom epidemic of voter fraud” and start explaining why they are “so afraid of voters having their say.” This is important because Republicans have cited the outsized fear of illegal voting as a pretext to police the process. They know anything that complicates voting in polling places or scares off new voters tends to help their candidates, because their base is older, more experienced with voting and more frequently votes by mail than Democrats.

2. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. This landmark law required the federal Department of Justice to review and approve any change in voting laws in more than a dozen states and large cities with histories of racial discrimination. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the law's enforcement provisions. Within days, Republican legislators in states like North Carolina reversed decades of progress, eliminating everything from early in-person voting to pre-registering high school students before they turn 18. She noted that the U.S. Senate had voted 98-to-0 to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act the last time it came up for review, which the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority ignored when gutting it in 2013.

3. Let people vote early. After the 2012 election, a bipartisan presidential comission led by top lawyers from the Obama and Romney campaigns made many recommendations on how to improve the process. When it came to casting ballots, they said there should be as many options as possible, from early in-person voting to wider voting by mail. Clinton said these sugestions should be implemented and that there should be 20 days of early voting; that is casting ballots before the first Tuesday in November.

4. No more long lines. Citing the same bipartisan commission, Clinton said polling places need to have sufficient numbers of voting machines so nobody has to wait more than 30 minutes. She pointed to one county in North Carolina where there was one machine for every 430 people, as opposed to the 250-person legal standard. Shorting the number of machines led to long waits and people leaving.     

5. Universal voter registration. Clinton said the presidential commission also supported online registration, which is now an option in about half the states. However, she wants to go further and essentially do what Canada and many European countries do, which is to automatically register every eligible voter. “Every citizen, in every state in the union,” Clinton said, “unless you choose to opt out.” Currently, between one-quarter and one-third of all eligible citizens are not registered. The technology exists to do this, she said.

6. Modernize registration. Clinton said it's time to leave the paperwork-heavy and often inaccurate process of creating and maintaining voter files behind and create an electronic system that is accurate, cost-effective, efficient—and capable of following people when they move. “When you move, your registration moves with you,” she said, noting that Oregon is now doing this.

While Clinton called these “common-sense” reforms, she is under no illusions that they would “come easily.” Laws like the Voting Rights Act have to be revised in the Congress, whereas these other aspects of the voting process are governed by state law. In closing, Clinton said it is necessary for people to vote in larger numbers and to become activists in a renewed civil rights movement. Real change takes time, but it comes, she said, pointing to the enfranchisement of African-Americans and women.         

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