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Dems Focus on Voting Rights for 2020   12/12 06:20

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats are trying to turn their most painful losses 
this year into a rallying cry they hope will electrify the 2020 presidential 
campaign: Every vote matters.

   Multiple potential contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are 
elevating the issue of voting rights as they prepare to launch campaigns. 
They're vowing to oppose Republican-backed efforts to require identification to 
vote, reinstate protections eliminated by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling and 
frequently highlight the necessity of counting every vote.

   The aim is to tap into the anger and frustration among Democrats who argue 
that Republicans win some elections by making it harder for their constituents, 
particularly minorities, to vote.

   That sentiment has long existed among Democrats but intensified after the 
party lost closely watched races for governor in Georgia and Florida last 
month. Both contests featured heated racial rhetoric and charges of voter 
suppression. The party's suspicion of Republicans has also grown as a 
congressional race in North Carolina remains mired in allegations of absentee 
ballot fraud and GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan seek to weaken the 
power of incoming Democratic governors.

   Democrats ultimately hope to turn the issue of voting rights into an 
argument that's just as persuasive to voters in 2020 as health care proved to 
be in 2018. And there's already competition among potential presidential 
contenders to build a reputation as the most aggressive in advocating for the 
right to vote.

   "This is not a new issue, and it is quite frankly the dark history of our 
country, which is specific populations being restricted from meaningful access 
to the right to vote," Sen. Kamala Harris of California told The Associated 
Press.

   "There's no question that 2018 highlighted an issue that has maybe seemed to 
be dormant for some time, but it's very much alive and it should be the subject 
of dinner table conversations everywhere and it should be of real concern to 
everyone because, look, when people lose confidence in our democracy, when 
Americans lose confidence in our democracy, it will impair our strength. It 
will cause us to be weaker," she said.

   Aides to Harris said that voting rights would be among her top priorities, 
and that she would likely frame it less as a civil rights issue and as more of 
a broader Democratic rallying point. She has argued that the entire Democratic 
agenda is weakened when Republicans restrict ballot access for unions, 
minorities and other groups.

   New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is weighing his own presidential bid, has 
framed the issue of voting rights in the context of a traditional civil rights 
issue. During an October trip to Des Moines, Iowa, Booker sparked cheering 
standing ovations as he quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech from the 
1965 voting rights march on Montgomery, Alabama.

   "How long will it take? I'm going to tell you, not long now," Booker 
proclaimed, turning the moment into a call-and-response. "Because it's not long 
until November."

   Harris, Booker and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are among the potential 
presidential candidates who will hold onto seats on the Senate Judiciary 
Committee heading into 2020, giving them an important post from which to 
address voting rights.

   That's leaving some activists pleased that the issue appears to be moving 
into the mainstream of Democratic politics.

   "This is the first time where I feel like there has been a broad 
conversation because the examples were so egregious," said Adrianne Shropshire, 
the executive director of BlackPAC, which works to mobilize black voters. "It 
was literally in every community that I went to, in every church that I stopped 
by, in every neighborhood when I was knocking on doors --- that was almost one 
of the first things that people were talking about because everyone felt like 
their community was under assault."

   Still, some caution that the focus on voting rights isn't a successful 
strategy to win a crucial election and could instead backfire on Democrats who 
are trying to appeal to broader swaths of voters. Peter Guzman, a Republican 
who is the president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Nevada, said that 
while he feels every candidate --- Democrat and Republican --- should talk 
about voting rights, he didn't see it as a singularly important issue to center 
a campaign on.

   "I think the conversation should be encouraging everybody to vote, and if 
anybody feels like that's being suppressed, they certainly should call the 
authorities and make it known that they're not able to vote," Guzman said in an 
interview.

   He added that he could see potential backlash for a candidate who campaigns 
on it. "I'm not quite sure everybody in the country believes the problem is 
that significant," he said.

   "Here in Nevada, I believe that we have some of the best, safest voting in 
the United States," he added. "I think we're a model for the rest of the 
nation. I do not believe that there's voter suppression. Whenever I hear voter 
fraud, I believe those are buzzwords for other things."

   That's not stopping Democrats for now. At a post-election gathering on 
Capitol Hill of the National Action Network, the civil rights organization 
founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, multiple senators who appear to be moving 
toward jumping into the 2020 presidential race eagerly discussed the issue.

   "When it comes to elections, there should be no hesitation: Every vote 
matters, period," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. "If you can't 
get more Americans to vote for you than the other guy or gal, then you lose. 
It's that simple. Politicians are supposed to compete over how many voters they 
can persuade to come vote for them, not how many American citizens they can 
disqualify, discourage or demoralize."

   Klobuchar, who could stake out a more moderate position among Democrats 
should she choose to seek the White House, told the gathering, "I think No. 1 
on the agenda has got to be our economy."

   "And then," she continued, "you can't have a fair economy for everyone if 
you don't have fair voting rights."

   Klobuchar noted she has sponsored a bill calling for automatic voter 
registration and supports reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.

   Last week in Charleston, South Carolina, dozens of people attended a town 
hall led by Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor and Democratic activist, 
focused on the right to an equal vote.

   "I do think we've seen more transparency into cheating, and more awareness 
that cheating actually flips elections," Steyer, who is considering running for 
president, told the AP. "We saw it in Georgia this year, we're seeing it in 
North Carolina real-time, but we also saw it in Wisconsin in 2016 --- it's not 
just south of the Mason-Dixon line."

   Even as he pushed his own message that every person deserves the right to an 
equal vote, Steyer said he wasn't sure that this issue would become a defining 
issue of the cycle.

   "Voting is a justice issue, but it doesn't come up that much," he said.


(KA)

 
 
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