Clinton accused several states of trying to stop millions of people from voting, especially the young, the poor, the elderly and minorities. Her targets included states such as Texas, Wisconsin and Florida, where the current or former leaders are Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.
“We have a responsibility to say clearly and directly what’s really going on in our country . . . a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people, and young people from one end of our country to another,” she said Thursday at Texas Southern University, a historically black school.
“What part of democracy are they afraid of?” she asked of the GOP governors, then brushed aside the claim that restrictions are needed to prevent vote fraud. “Stop fear mongering about a phantom epidemic of election fraud.”
She outlined a proposal for a nationwide in-person early voting period of at least 20 days and automatic voter registration at the age of 18.
“In the greatest democracy on Earth, we should be clearing the way for more people to vote, not putting up roadblocks,” she said.
Clinton urged Congress to pass a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the law in 2013 and allowed some states to make significant changes to their election laws. She said the decision had ripped the “heart” out of the law.
It’s her first significant policy proposal about how to change voting procedures across the nation since she became a presidential candidate in April. She’s unveiled plans on only a handful of topics so far, but her campaign says the bulk will be released in the weeks and months following her first rally on June 13.
Clinton is still the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination, but in recent weeks the Democratic field has expanded to include Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland and former Sen. and Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.
The push on voting rights could help Clinton win over more liberal members of her party, some of whom are not enthusiastic about her, as well as African-Americans voters, whom she had trouble drawing the first time she ran for president.
She endorsed recommendations made by President Barack Obama’s bipartisan commission on elections, including having states update voter-registration lists, increase online voter registration and expand the training and recruitment of poll workers.
“I believe every citizen has the right to vote, and I believe we should make it easier for every citizen to vote,” she said.
About 20 million people voted early in the 2014 elections. But a third of states, including her home state of New York, which she represented in the Senate, still have no early voting.
“If citizens coming out of church on Sunday are inspired to go vote, then they should just do that,” she said.
She called for automatic voter registration in which citizens in every state would be registered to vote when they turn 18 unless they opt out. Currently, between a quarter and a third of eligible Americans remain unregistered and unable to vote.
Universal registration would have a “profound impact on our elections and our democracy,” she said to a standing ovation.
“Finally, a presidential candidate is acknowledging the rampant voting discrimination that has surged since the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
In many state capitals, Republicans have pushed changes to voting laws, saying they were needed to prevent voter fraud.
In Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration was accused of purging voting rolls of certain eligible voters before the 2000 presidential election. His brother, George W. Bush, won the state after a lengthy recount.
In Texas, lawmakers implemented what Clinton calls a “restrictive law” in 2014 that a federal court had previously blocked, saying it had “discriminatory purpose.” She chided the state for allowing a concealed weapon permit as valid identification but not a student photo ID.
In Wisconsin, lawmakers reduced early voting in 2011, limiting it to one weekend. They eliminated early voting on weekends altogether in 2014.
“Any measure that protects our democracy by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat is a step in the right direction,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for Our American Revival, Walker’s political action committee. “This is a bipartisan issue, and Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are on the wrong side.”
Democrats are working to defeat some of the Republican-enacted restrictions in certain states. The effort is being led by Marc Elias, a leading Democratic lawyer who also represents Clinton.