Last Friday, Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton made their positions on voting rights pretty clear: We don’t need more voting restrictions. We need fewer.
During MSNBC’s candidate forum on Friday evening, moderator Rachel Maddow brought up the issue with Sanders, saying that “voting rights have become a partisan issue.”
The week before the candidate forum, 41 civil and human rights groups called on CNBC and MSNBC to bring up the issue during their upcoming broadcasts. CNBC didn’t ask Republican candidates about voting rights. When MSNBC did, Sanders was ready to respond.
Sanders blasted Republicans for what he views as attempts to make voting more difficult. “It has never occurred to me as a candidate to figure out a way that I could deny the vote to people because they might vote against me. And the people who do that are political cowards, they’re afraid of a fair election. We have a real crisis in this country,” he said. “And what Republicans are doing is so un-American, it is so outrageous. It is literally beyond belief. They are political cowards. And if they can’t face a free election they should get another job.”
Sanders could be referring to a recent situation in Alabama, where the enactment of a voting law requiring photo ID paired with the closing of 31 DMV offices led to serious criticism, including pressure for a federal investigation and calls to restore the VRA. He could also be referring to Republicans’ refusal to let certain voting laws go into effect. Just days after the candidate forum, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, vetoed a bill that would have made voting much easier in his state.
On Twitter, Clinton responded to Christie’s veto by saying, “Yet another Republican refuses to make it easier to vote. What part of democracy are they so afraid of?”
And even though Maddow didn’t ask Clinton about voting rights during the forum, Clinton did author an op-ed on EBONY.com on Friday that made her position clear.
“And as Dr. King knew well, a political system rigged against full participation at the voting booth only deepens inequality. Republican governors and state legislatures have passed law after law, systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of Americans from voting. What part of democracy are they so afraid of?” That last line has become her signature catchphrase – a question she asked back in June when laying out her vision on voting rights, and one she repeated last month when she penned an op-ed for AL.com in response to the debacle in Alabama.
“I believe every citizen should be registered to vote automatically when they turn 18. Every state should have no fewer than 20 days of early in-person voting,” Clinton wrote in her EBONY.com op-ed. “We should restore voting rights to people who have been convicted of crimes and paid their debts to society—because voting is a central part of our civic life. And Congress must act now to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. We have fought too long and come too far to go backward now.”
We know Sanders agrees that the VRA must be restored: He is a cosponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act – a bill introduced in June by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D. Vt., to restore portions of the VRA gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Sanders’ colleagues in the Senate who are also seeking the presidency, all Republicans, have not cosponsored Leahy’s bill.
Absent their co-sponsorship, Sens. Rubio, Cruz, Paul, and Graham – and all other candidates – should make clear where they stand on the issue, as Jeb Bush and Ben Carson did last month. After all, everyone trying to win the vote should be willing to protect it – and if they’re not, Americans need to know.