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. Representative 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 and can block Senate legislation. 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 next week’s State of the Union speech, his budget, gun-control and immigration priorities will compete for time and attention.
The voting-rights measure could appeal to independents, said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison, Wisconsin-based advocacy group. Except for “a narrow partisan minority, most people favor making it easier for Americans to vote,” she said.