- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton called Thursday for a massive expansion of voting laws, including establishing a nationwide 20-day early voting period and automatic voter registration that would immediately flood the rolls with likely Democratic voters.

The former secretary of state also urged Congress to restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the 2013 ruling had uncorked a Republican conspiracy to block blacks and poor people from the polls.

“Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting. What part of democracy are they afraid of,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech at Texas Southern University, a historic black college in Houston.

“I believe every citizen has the right to vote and I believe we should do everything we can to make it easier for every citizen to vote,” she said to resounding applause. “I call on Republicans at all levels of government, with all manner of ambition, to stop fear mongering about a phantom epidemic of election fraud and start explaining why they are so scared of letting citizens have their say.”

Republicans have warned of voter fraud and pushed voter ID laws in several states. While there is scant evidence of widespread voting abuses, proponents of the laws say it is a common-sense measure to protect the integrity of elections.

Democrats have argued that voter ID laws discriminate against minorities and the poor.

Republicans bristled at Mrs. Clinton’s remarks.

“Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric is misleading and divisive. In reality, the vast majority of Americans including minority voters support commonsense measures to prevent voter fraud,” said Orlando Watson, Republican National Committee communications director for black media.

Clinton’s shameless attacks ignore the fact her Democrat-led home state of New York does not allow early voting while dozens of Republican-led states do. Her exploitation of this issue only underscores why voters find her dishonest and untrustworthy,” he said.

A Rasmussen Reports survey this week found that 76 percent of Americans support a voter ID law, compared to 20 percent that oppose it. That’s nearly unchanged from the same poll in 2006 that showed 78 percent supported it.

Even among Democrats, a majority 58 percent think Americans should be required to show photo ID before voting, while 92 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of unaffiliated voters share that view.

Some of the other voting changes proposed by Mrs. Clinton would undoubtably benefit her Democratic Party. Mandatory automatic registration would deliver young voters who typically vote Democrat, but often neglect to sign up on their own.

Young voters between the ages of 18 through 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups, according to U.S. Census data.

Mrs. Clinton’s speech targeted core Democratic constituencies of blacks, Hispanics and young people. She also referred to the country’s long, difficult journey in pursuit of universal voting rights that included winning it for women, another group that her campaign has identified as key to her election strategy.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who last week launched a longshot bid against Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, voiced support for her stance. But he also said that he — not the former first lady, senator and top diplomat — had proven his leadership on that score.

Mr. O’Malley has made his 15 years of executive experience a defining argument for his candidacy, and the campaign’s quick response to the speech signaled he was mounting a new and aggressive challenge to Mrs. Clinton.

“Governor O’Malley doesn’t just talk about voting rights, he’s shown the leadership to expand them,” said O’Malley Deputy Campaign Manager Karine Jean-Pierre. “He signed into law early voting, same day and online voting registration. He encouraged broader participation among young people by allowing them to register to vote at age 16. And he restored voting rights to 52,000 former felons.”

She credited Mr. O’Malley’s “forward-looking and progressive leadership” with paving the way to expanded voter rights in Maryland.

The high court’s ruling in 2013 removed a central feature of the Voting Rights Act that had required nine states with a history of discrimination from getting federal approval to change their election laws. It freed up states, including Texas and North Carolina, to pursue voter ID laws.

Many of those laws face court challenges that will decide whether ID requirements will be a factor in the 2016 election.

The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the voter ID law in Wisconsin, which was signed by Gov. Scott Walker, a potential GOP presidential candidate. But similar laws in Texas and North Carolina are making their way through the courts.

In the speech, Mrs. Clinton blasted several potential Republican rivals for joining a “crusade against voting rights.”

In addition to Mr. Walker, she named former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his presidential bid Thursday, for signing a voter ID law; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for vetoing early-voting legislation; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for presiding over state officials who purged voter rolls prior to the 2000 election.

“Yes, this is about democracy but it is also about dignity, about the ability to stand up and say, ‘Yes, I am a citizen. I am an American. My voice counts,’” said Mrs. Clinton.

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