HRC Goes All In On Voting Rights

In a much-anticipated speech at an HBCU in Houston, Hillary Clinton today went a good deal farther than Barack Obama has gone in making national voting rights standards a national political issue. Here’s the basic report from MSNBC’s Zachary Roth:

In a major speech on voting rights Thursday, Hillary Clinton laid out a far-reaching vision for expanding access to the ballot box, and denounced Republican efforts to make voting harder.

Speaking at Texas Southern University in Houston, Clinton called for every American to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 unless they choose not to be. She backed a nationwide standard of at least 20 days of early voting. She urged Congress to pass legislation strengthening the Voting Rights Act, which was gravely weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling. And she slammed restrictive voting laws imposed by the GOP in Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which she said affect minorities and students in particular.

“We have a responsibility to say clearly and directly what’s really going on in our country,” Clinton said, “because what is happening is a sweeping effort to dis-empower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people, and young people from one end of our country to the other.”

Here’s Greg Sargent on the wonky side of this:

Voting reform advocates favor universal, automatic registration as a way to streamline and simplify the registration process, to eliminate matching problems between state databases, reduce the possibility of voter registration fraud, and maximize voter participation.

Personally, what enthuses me is that she’s discussing national standards for ballot access, instead of treating the right to vote as the constitutional equivalent of letting states figure out which courts have jurisdiction over traffic offenses. A lot of the ground on jurisdiction over voting rights is ill-defined; I’m all for pushing uniform standards as far as the courts allow, and then using the bully pulpit to push it still farther. Ballot access is so fundamental to democracy that it’s an outrage to see county officials all over the country wreak havoc on the right to vote for petty partisan reasons. It needs to stop.

Greg also notes there is a political side of HRC’s positioning, of course:

In political terms, Clinton’s call for universal voting registration appears to be a bid to energize millennial voters. As it is, the broader voting access push — like her recent moves leftward on immigration, climate change, and sentencing reform — is partly about mobilizing core Obama coalition groups, including minorities. Today’s proposal is more heavily focused on the young. After all, one of the key unknowns of the cycle is whether Clinton will be able to turn out Obama voters on the same levels he did, and young voters — who were excited by the historical nature of Obama’s candidacy — are key to that.

Younger voters are often snared in efforts to limit the franchise via complicated registration requirements and inconvenient election rules (e.g., little or no early voting or voting by mail). Whether or not millennials warm to her for fighting for their democratic rights, they’ll almost certainly notice where Republicans are on this subject: closing doors, as usual.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.