President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, citing long lines and hours-long waits at polling places last November, want to change the narrative on voting rights.
Democrats are urging mandatory early-voting periods and same-day registration, trying to shift the focus to making it easier to cast ballots from Republican efforts to curb alleged fraud, which studies show is virtually absent. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, is chief sponsor of legislation backed by more than 80 percent of House Democrats.
“This is an attempt to change the debate away from so- called voter fraud, where little exists, to empowering people to actually get to the polls and vote," said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now at the lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates.
The effort has yet to draw any support from Republicans, who control the House. They question the necessity for the federal government to tell states how to run elections. And while Obama cited voting rights in his inaugural address and may promote the issue in his upcoming State of the Union speech, his budget, gun control and immigration will compete for time and attention.
House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican and a former secretary of state who oversaw elections, said states alone should decide how to proceed. “There are no one-size-fits-all solutions."
Still, vivid pictures of voters waiting for hours buttress calls for early balloting and other changes, said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the democracy program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “Voting shouldn’t be that difficult or complicated," he said.
Democratic constituencies were the ones most affected last November, surveys show. Black and Hispanic voters, who cast 93 percent and 71 percent of their respective ballots for Obama in 2012, waited an average of 20.2 minutes. The wait for whites, who backed Mitt Romney by 59 percent, averaged 12.7 minutes.