The following is a piece written by Common Cause Massachusetts summer intern Maria Hardiman.
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On June 4, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood in front of one of her largest crowds yet as a presidential candidate and received the Barbara Jordan Public-Private Leadership Award from the Texas Southern University in Houston. Like all of her public appearances, this one was strategic. Her presence at a historically black college is a reminder of the coalition of voters she will need to rally in order to be elected to the presidency. Whoever the nominees for president may be, they will face the challenge of turning out voters in an increasingly cynical political environment.
Clinton chose this platform to talk about voting rights. She condemned voter ID laws as tools of voter suppression. She chastised states for rolling back early voting programs. She criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. Most strikingly, she called for solutions: automatic voter registration in every state when young people turn 18, at least 20 days of early voting nationwide, including evenings and weekends, and the repeal of state laws that ban the nearly 6 million Americans with criminal records from voting.
Yes, Clinton’s newfound passion for voting rights is strategic—but not wrong. Indeed, something is happening in America with regards to voting rights. Clinton’s comments come on the heels of her recent endorsement of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, President Obama’s support for mandatory voting, and the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the pivotal yet weakened Voting Rights Act.
She is not alone in this focus either. Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill last year that would restore voting rights to nonviolent felons in federal elections. Challenges to voter suppression laws in Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina are making their way through the courts. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case out of Texas that could potentially redefine the meaning of “one person, one vote.” Oregon is now the first state to automatically register voters through their DMV files, giving 300,000 new people access to the ballot.
Expanded voting rights and tighter regulations on campaign finance reform have long had strong bipartisan support amongst voters. The New York Times featured a poll on its front page this month highlighting Americans’ overwhelming support for campaign finance reform. The issue in enacting reform is not in a lack of support, but in a lack of priority. Clinton, Paul, and hopefully other candidates will bring much needed publicity to the fight for voting rights championed by Common Cause and other groups.
Here in Massachusetts, we have our own campaign to focus on too. Come 2016, our state voters will be able to cast their votes during an early voting period that starts two weeks before Election Day. Massachusetts is joining DC and 34 other states with early voting, easing access to the polls and giving voters the flexibility that should come with the right to vote. As we implement this new law, we still need to ensure that municipalities provide adequate evening and weekend hours for early voting, along with convenient voting locations for all Massachusetts voters. There should be no obstacle to participating in your democracy, no matter your party affiliation. With hard work and continued pressure on politicians, we will make our voices heard.
Contact us at Common Cause Massachusetts (617-426-9600), or sign up here, if you wish to be a volunteer on our campaign to make sure early voting equals expanded voting!