Civil rights activists, voting rights groups and Democratic leaders across the country—most notably Bill Clinton—have denounced the spate of new voting restrictions passed by Republicans since the 2010 election.
But this important topic didn’t come up in any of the presidential debates, and President Obama has been reluctant to weigh in on the controversy (although Michelle Obama gave a stirring speech at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation gala in September about the right to vote).
So it was refreshing to hear Jay Leno, of all people, ask Obama about “voter suppression” on The Tonight Show last night. Leno spotlighted an ad campaign in Pennsylvania (which he wrongly labeled as Colorado), where the state asks voters to “show it”—photo ID, that is—even though the fine print notes that “voters will be asked, but not required, to show an acceptable photo ID on Election Day.” (The Pennsylvania ACLU has asked the judge who blocked the law to halt the misleading ads).
It’s a problem. Now the Justice Department handles all these cases, so I can’t weigh in on any particular state. Here’s one thing I know: that throughout our history, our country’s always been stronger when everybody’s had a voice. It took a long time to make sure the franchise expanded to everybody. But we should be thinking about ways to make it easier for folks to vote, not to make it harder for folks to vote.
That’s why this early voting is really terrific. In Iowa, I think 25 percent of the people have already voted. In Ohio, folks are already voting. In a whole bunch of states—Florida, Colorado—people can already vote, and that’s especially important for people who don’t have as much flexibility on the job. If you’re a factory worker and you’ve got to punch a clock and maybe your shift is one where you’ve got to be there right on time, you’ve got to take a bus to get to work, it just makes it tougher. So now people can vote [early] and we want to encourage everybody, regardless of who you’re voting for, make sure to take advantage of it, and find out if you can exercise early voting in your state.