Obama Vows to Fight GOP Led Voting Restrictions

Image: Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks at Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference in New York, Friday, April 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)Carolyn Kaster / AP

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President Barack Obama on Friday vowed to fight back against Republican led efforts to implement restrictive voter identification measures in some states, capping off a week in which Democrats have attempted to bring the issue to the forefront of national attention.

“The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Obama told the National Action Network conference in New York City. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

The administration has made a recent push to combat voting restriction laws being implemented in some states following last year's Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act which allowed previously covered states and jurisdictions to change voting procedures without federal approval.

Since then, Republicans in several states have enacted laws to limit early voting periods and require voters to have certain forms of identification. Proponents of the measures say they are meant to prevent fraud at the ballot box and streamline the voting process. But Democrats maintain the laws are a way to suppress voter turnout and disadvantage minority or low-income Americans who have never needed an ID.

The Department of Justice has challenged election laws in North Carolina and Texas, and Obama on Friday reiterated his administration’s commitment to making sure that the right to vote is not limited in any state.

The president said, while he believes it is important to prevent voter fraud, the sweeping legislative changes being undertaken in some states are unwarranted for the relatively few cases of fraud recorded each election cycle.

“The real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud,” he said.

The issue is particularly troubling for Democrats ahead of the midterm elections, which are characterized by lower turnout than presidential election years. Former President Bill Clinton, who called voter ID laws "a way of restricting the franchise," said during a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act on Wednesday that the laws could play a large role in 2014.

"It may work from now on, in non-presidential years when some of the people who were given the right to vote did not understand that that responsibility to vote extended to every election, not just those in presidential years," he said.

Clinton said he agrees with the suggestion of former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, once a top aide to Martin Luther King, who called on Obama to use his executive power to allow for photos to appear on Social Security cards that could be used as voter ID.

During the White House briefing on Friday, press secretary Jay Carney said the administration had not yet reviewed all the implications of the proposal, but the president is in favor of “making it easier for Americans to vote, not harder.”