Obama: Voting law 'has to be a priority'
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President Obama on Thursday fired up his supporters ahead of the first Republican presidential debate, defending the Voting Rights Act on its 50th anniversary.

Obama at the White House called on Congress to restore the law and said people should not be discouraged by obstacles to casting a ballot.


“There are people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle who are prepared to move it, but it keeps slipping as a priority,” Obama said of an update to the voting law. “This has to be a priority. If this isn't working, nothing's working. We’ve got to get it done.”

The president’s message was part of an all-day push calling for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, the core of which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The court ruled that states with histories of racial discrimination no longer need to seek federal approval before changing their election laws.

Obama weighed in on fights over GOP-backed laws at the state and local level, some of which curb early voting, require people to provide identification at the polls and prohibit pre-registration for people under 18.

Several states, such as North Carolina and Texas, have adopted such laws. On Thursday, a federal appeals court ruled that Texas’ voter ID statue violated the Voting Rights Act because it has a “discriminatory” effect on minorities.

The president dismissed Republican arguments that the laws are needed to curb voter fraud.

“It turns out it’s just not a common crime,” Obama said.

“We have state legislatures … trying to make it harder to vote,” he added. “Some of them are not that shy about saying so.”

Obama stood alongside Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) at the event, which was billed as a national call for action.

The voting rights push has a political component for Democrats. Arguing that Republicans are trying to stop people from voting could help motivate the minority voters that they need to win in 2016.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton asked if she'd be Bloomberg's vice president: 'Oh no' Trump launches three-day campaign rally blitz Free Roger Stone MORE, Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE and Martin O’Malley all spent Thursday pushing for proposals designed to make it easier to vote.

Clinton ripped Republicans for embracing “nakedly partisan” laws to “limit the electorate” during an interview with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In addition to the Texas and North Carolina laws, civil rights groups have taken aim at a voter ID measure signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is running for president in 2016.

But Obama also showed his supporters tough love, saying that voter ID laws should not stop them from casting a ballot on Election Day.

The fact voter turnout was so low in the 2014 midterms, when Democrats suffered huge losses, “is not attributable to a voter ID law,” the president said.

“Far more people disenfranchise themselves than any law does by not participating, by not getting involved,” he added. “Huge chunks of us just give away our power. … We would rather complain then do something about it.”  

Obama plugged Sept. 22 as National Voter Registration Day, urging people to make sure they are eligible to vote next November.

Still, the president has faced criticism from some civil rights groups that say he has not done enough to push for new voter protections.

The White House declined to endorse moving Election Day to the weekend, which is one proposal pushed by voting-rights groups.

“I know that some who have taken a close look at this issue, for example, have found that there might be some downsides to moving Election Day to a weekend instead of a weekday,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Earnest noted a White House commission has recommended states expand early voting and adopt online registration, among other changes.

— This story was updated at 4:17 p.m.