Last week, Hillary Clinton stated the simple truths about voting in America, in a stirring address before students at Texas Southern University. The right to vote, not explicitly guaranteed in the Constitution, is fundamental to a democracy. Yet across this country, we witness systematic efforts to erect impediments to voting in order to, in Clinton’s words, “disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people and young people.”
After the Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, Republicans in state after state passed laws to constrict the right to vote. In Texas, for example, a concealed weapons permit qualifies as “official identification” needed to vote, whereas a valid student ID is no longer sufficient. Across the country, minority voters are more likely than white voters to face long lines in order to cast their votes. The young and the poor are less likely to have the official identification needed to vote.
This is, as Clinton said, not an accident, and “it’s just wrong.” She called out by name potential contenders for the Republican presidential nomination — Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush — who have pushed voter restrictions, asking, “What part of democracy are they afraid of?”
Arguing that every citizen should have the right to vote, Clinton argued the common sense position that we should do what we can to make voting easier, not make it harder. She called for restoring the Voting Rights Act, to ensure pre-screening of election law changes that potentially discriminate against classes of voters. She embraced the bipartisan presidential commission recommendations for expanding early absentee and mail voting and for ensuring that no one waits more than 30 minutes to cast a vote.
She also broke new ground. She urged a national requirement of 20 days of early in-person voting everywhere, including voting on weekends and on evenings, making it easier for working people to cast their ballot.
Most important, she called for universal, automatic voter registration. Every citizen at 18 would be automatically registered, unless he or she chooses to opt out. A nationally synchronized system could ensure that registration moves with the citizen, so no one needs register again. This would put an end to the false posturing about phantom voter fraud that Republicans use to erect barriers to voting.
The right to vote, as Clinton summarized, is central to democracy. But it is also about dignity. It is about inclusion. It says I am an American. My voice counts.
Clinton noted that the struggle for the right to vote was central to the civil rights movement. But that struggle has not ended. Once more voting rights are under attack. Once more barriers to voting are being erected by those who fear a true vote of the people. Once more we need citizens to mobilize to demand their right to vote. Once more we need courageous leaders to defend that right. With this powerful speech, Hillary Clinton has stood up to be counted in that fight.