Civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King III, are amping up the pressure on President Obama and the 2016 White House contenders to tackle low voter turnout by overhauling the rules governing the nation’s elections. The advocates are marking Thursday’s 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) with a rally on the National Mall calling for new efforts to knock down what they consider to be barriers to the polls. The activists want lawmakers to consider online registration and an expansion of the voting window to include a weekend, which they argue would make it easier for people to cast their ballots. Behind King and Andrew Young, the former United Nations ambassador and civil rights activist who now heads the voting rights group Why Tuesday?, the activists have challenged each of the 2016 presidential candidates to outline their ideas for addressing the low voter turnout that’s plagued recent elections — a request that came with an unveiled threat to call out those who ignore the plea.
“If you refuse to speak up by the extended deadline … tomorrow we will regrettably be reminding voters, that even people who claim to have the moral fiber to lead our nation don’t have the courage and commitment to speak up on this vitally important issue,” William B. Wachtel, a New York-based attorney and co-founder of Why Tuesday?, wrote in an email sent Wednesday to each of the campaigns.
The Hill contacted the offices of the top 15 GOP presidential contenders, as well as the three leading Democrats. Only two, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, responded with a prescription for the turnout problem.
Clinton, the former secretary of State, is pushing a host of reforms, including automatic voter registration; a 20-day voting window to include weekends; and efforts to eliminate lines at the polls. O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, is calling for a constitutional amendment to protect voting rights — a shot at the tougher voting requirements adopted by a number of conservative states in the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central part of the Voting Rights Act.