On MLK Day, Biden slams state voter ID laws

Singles out GOP moves in N.C., Alabama

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden criticized voter ID laws Monday, saying progress on civil rights and economic justice depend on minorities having unimpeded access to the ballot booth.

“I’d never thought we’d be fighting the fight again on voting rights,” Mr. Biden said in Washington at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast hosted by the National Action Network. “This has been the ultimate fight because our opponents know, they know, the single most dangerous thing to give us is the right to vote.”

The vice president criticized efforts in North Carolina and Alabama — he didn’t mention his native state of Pennsylvania — where Republicans have pushed for laws requiring photo IDs to vote. In Pennsylvania, a judge on Friday threw out the state’s voter ID law, although the ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Mr. Biden noted that King wrote in 1965 that voting “is the foundation stone for political action.” He urged his audience to guard against “new attempts by states and localities to limit ballot access without the full protection of the law.”

“It’s time we take stock,” Mr. Biden said, adding that Washington is “on the brink” of major social change such as immigration reform and wage laws that depend on preserving the right for all to vote.

“I think we’re on the brink of bringing 11 million people out of the shadows onto a path to citizenship, making us not only a more humane country but a more economically successful country,” he said. “I think we’re in the process of guaranteeing that no one who works 40 hours a week will have to continue to live in poverty. We’re going to raise that minimum wage.”

He added, “I think we’re in the final stages of rectifying the injustice of income inequality between women and men. Not only is it unjust for women to make 77 cents on the dollar compared with a man, it’s stupid economically. It’s against our economic interests. And it’s way past time that we stop arguing about whether every American has the right to adequate affordable health care. Thanks to Barack Obama, that fight is over and we are not going back. Period.”

The president is making economic equality a major theme of his policies this year as he promotes Democratic initiatives in the midterm elections. Mr. Obama, as he did last year, is pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10.

“As in the past, we shall overcome,” Mr. Biden said. “But let me remind you all, it all rests ultimately on the ballot box.”

The vice president also took the Supreme Court to task for its 2012 ruling that gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states with a history of voter discrimination to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making changes to existing voter laws.

Mr. Biden said dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “got it right when she said throwing out the existing process when it’s working and continues to work is ‘like throwing away an umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.’”

“And now we’re in a hailstorm,” the vice president said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama will meet with the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which Mr. Obama appointed in March to review issues such as long lines on Election Day in certain voting precincts. The panel issued a report last month that said nearly half of Americans live in voting districts where long lines were a problem in the 2012 general election.

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