By Justin Sink
President Obama labeled complaints about voter fraud “bogus” and accused Republicans of cynically trying to prevent Americans from accessing the polls in a fiery speech Friday at a civil rights forum hosted by Al Sharpton.
Obama argued that attempts in some states to impose new voter identification restrictions were actually efforts by Republicans to make “it harder, not easier to vote.” And the president said that while voter fraud should be prevented, it rarely occurred.
Obama sad that the efforts betrayed a weakness within the Republican Party, saying his opposition needed to restrict poll access to remain competitive.
“If your strategy depends on fewer people showing up to vote, that's not a sign of strength, it's a sign of weakness,” Obama said.
“What kind of political platform is that?” he added. “Why would you make that part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?”
Obama called on Congress to pass an updated formula that would restore a central provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Last year, the Supreme Court gutted a part of the historic civil rights legislation that required certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to clear changes in voting procedures with the federal government.
The court said Congress could update the formula for "pre-clearance," but lawmakers have been unable to agree on new standards.
Some Southern states have subsequently moved aggressively to impose new, tougher voter ID requirements. Supporters of the legislation, including many Republicans, argue the new standards help prevent voter fraud.
But Democrats say the changes are really intended to exclude poor, minority and young voters who might not have the required photo identification and for whom obtaining it would prove costly.
“Just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don't,” Obama quipped, in reference to the campaign controversy over his birthplace. “I think it's still up on a website. You remember that? That was crazy. That was some crazy stuff. I hadn't thought about that in a while.”
Obama accused Republicans lawmakers of “changing the rules to try to restrict people's access to the ballot.”
And the president said he would have Attorney General Eric Holder review all of the laws being passed for possible legal challenges.
“I will not let voter suppression go unchallenged,” Obama said.
But he also encouraged the assembled crowd to turn out and volunteer to register voters, even as restrictions tightened.
The president did not discuss alternative proposals to combat changes to voting laws.
Earlier this week, civil rights leader Andrew Young suggested Obama provide free Social Security cards with photos to all citizens, in a proposal endorsed by Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration hadn't had a chance to renew the proposal.
“We haven't had an opportunity to review all of the implications of that idea that Bill Clinton and others have put forward, but generally speaking on the question of voting rights, President Obama believes we should be making it easier and not harder for every eligible citizen to vote,” Carney said.