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Hillary Clinton Calls For Automatic Voter Registration

Image: Hillary Clinton Campigns In Iowa, Meeting With Small Business Owners

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Yesterday Clinton hosted an organizing rally with supporters in Mason City. Scott Olson / Getty Images

In one of her first policy speeches since she announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton called for reforms to voting laws and also slammed potential Republican challengers for what she calls restrictive voting laws passed under their watch.

"We should be clearing the way for people to vote not putting up every roadblock that can be imagined," Clinton said Thursday at Texas Southern University after receiving a leadership award named after Texas civil rights icon Barbara Jordan.

Hillary Clinton: Republicans 'Deliberately Trying to Stop' Millions From Voting 2:19

And in her most direct criticism of her potential challengers, she called out the states led by governors running for the Republican nomination. In his home state she slammed former Texas Governor Rick Perry for a law that allows for voters to show a concealed weapons permit to vote but not a student ID.

"But Gov. Perry is hardly alone in his crusade against" access to voting, Clinton added before criticizing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for signing a law that that cut back early voting.

Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for Walker, said, "Any measure that protects our democracy by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat is a step in the right direction. This is a bipartisan issue and Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are on the wrong side."

Just last week a lawyers that works for the Clinton campaign filed suit against Wisconsin over its voting laws. The campaign is not a part of the suit but is supportive.

She also knocked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for vetoing legislation that would have extended early voting and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for supporting a bill that purged voters from the voter rolls.

As for policy, Clinton proposed automatic, universal voter registration at the age of 18.

"What possible reason could there be to end pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds and eliminate voter outreach in high schools?" Clinton rhetorically asked.

Clinton's proposal for automatic registration mimics a law that passed in Oregon where people with driver's licenses are automatically registered to vote unless a person opts out.

In addition, she also called for a national standard of 20 days of early in-person voting.

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Her ideas are praised by voting rights advocates who point to a long list of laws passed in states since 2010 that they say have restricted access to voting. They are pleased that Clinton highlighted the discussion, noting that voter participation rates rank near the bottom globally with about 62 percent of eligible voters voting, according to a report by Popular Democracy.

"The big American struggle has been what kind of barriers have been put in front of the ballot box," Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights Project at the Brennan Center for Justice, said. "I'm very excited that there's a national conversation about what voting rights Americans should enjoy."

The voting landscape has changed in recent years. After Republicans won elections in many state capitals and gained the majority in state legislatures in the 2010 wave election, 21 states passed laws that impede access to voting, including photo ID laws or cutting back on early voting, according to the Brennan Center.

In addition, a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted a central component of the Voting Rights Act, the law that was passed in 1965 to ensure that states don't disenfranchise voters. The decision enabled states, mainly in the South, to make changes in their voting laws without seeking approval from the federal government.

Clinton called for legislation to reinstate "the heart" of the VRA.