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Obama says panel will halt ‘tricks’ to block voters

President Obama said Friday that his new voting-rights commission will help to prevent state officials from engaging in "new tricks" that discourage minorities from voting.

"It's very important that we work together to make sure everybody gets a chance to vote, and we clear away a lot of this nonsense," Mr. Obama said in an interview with SiriusXM radio. He added that the country needs more election rules "to make sure that people aren't waiting in line for six, seven hours, that there aren't new tricks that discourage people from voting."

Although he did not single out Republicans by name, Mr. Obama's comments came after the two major parties sparred continually during last election cycle over new voting requirements instituted in a string of GOP-controlled states. Backers of the new laws say they were needed to prevent polling fraud, while critics said they were a way to intimidate or curtail voting primarily by low-income and minority voters, who tended to back the president.

In his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, Mr. Obama announced the creation of a non-partisan commission to investigate problems with voting nationwide. The effort is being co-chaired by Bob Bauer, former top lawyer for the president's re-election campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, who was the lead attorney for the campaign of Republican Mitt Romney.

Some Republicans in Congress have objected to the commission, saying it could interfere in an issue that should be left up to the states.

Mr. Obama told Sirius host Joe Madison that new regulations to protect minority voting rights would guard against the impact of a potential Supreme Court ruling to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The justices next week will hear oral arguments in an Alabama case in which Shelby County officials argue that they ought to be finally free of the law's requirements, which mandate that officials in certain jurisdictions seek "pre-clearance" from the federal government before enacting any new election laws.

The president said the law has aided black and Latino voters for decades by blocking "any new mechanisms that prevented people from voting." Mr.Obama alluded to those recent laws in various Republican-controlled states changing early-voting schedules and requiring voters to show identification before casting ballots.

"If Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is struck down, then that pre-clearance process would go away," Mr. Obama said. "Now, you'd still have laws in place that would insist that everybody has the right to vote, but the difference is that you'd now have to wait until after … some of these mechanisms had been put into place before you filed suit to try to get them struck down."

He added, "Obviously, if it's after an election, it's a lot harder to give people relief and there are some parts of the country where obviously folks have been trying to make it harder for people to vote, and so generally speaking, you'd see less protection before an election with respect to voting rights and people could keep coming up with new schemes each election. Even if ultimately they were ruled to violate the Voting Rights Act, it would be hard for us to catch those things up front to make sure that elections are done in an equitable way."

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