Dec 6, 2013

Obama Promises Action on Discriminatory Voter ID Laws in Hardball Interview

President Obama is interviewed by Chris Matthews for his show
Hardball on MSNBC at American University in Washington DC.,
Dec. 5, 2013.- Photo by Charles Ommanney for MSNBC
President Obama did an one-on-one interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball before news broke that the world lost a human rights icon in Nelson Mandela's passing.

Lost in the news is Obama's response to a question on Voter ID and GOP voter suppression during the interview.

Obama offered a response that appears to offer assurance that the administration is going to pursue a strong political and legal attack against illegal GOP voter obstruction.

Said Obama, "Keep in mind though, for all the efforts that have been made, and some of them by the way may be illegal, may violate the Voting Rights Act even after the Supreme Court's recent ruling, and our Justice Department is going to be staying on them if we have evidence that you have mechanisms that are specifically designed to discriminate against certain groups of voters. Then, the Justice Department will come down on them and file suit."

A Twitter question appeared on screen and was read aloud by Matthews:

C.Wilhams@Persistentvoice

What can we do to stop the #GOP from rigging the vote state by state to disenfranchise voters (and) destroy our democracy?

Chris Matthews

Thirty-six states right now, led by Republican legislatures, have been trying to make it difficult for minority people to vote especially in big cities, and (with) older people. Everybody knows the game; Republicans often admit the game—to deny people the vote. Well, what's your reaction?

Barack Obama

A couple of things. You saw the lines that we had, not only in 08 but then in 12, some of these folks might have stood in line. And, I said on election night, that's unacceptable in a democracy that has been around as long as ours' and that the world looks to.

So, we actually immediately assigned my chief election lawyer and Mitt Romney's chief election lawyer to sit down with a group of experts and come up with a whole series of voter reforms. They're supposed to report back to me by the end of this year, so that early next year we're going to put forward what we know will be a bipartisan effort, or a bipartisan proposal, to encourage people to vote.

You can't say you take pride in American democracy, American Constitutionalism, American exceptionalism, and then you're doing everything you can to make harder for people to vote as opposed to easier for people to vote.

So, I think there are some common sense things that we can do, and I won't preview the proposals because I haven't gotten them yet.

Keep in mind though, for all the efforts that have been made, and some of them by the way may be illegal, may violate the Voting Rights Act even after the Supreme Court's recent ruling, and our Justice Department is going to be staying on them if we have evidence that you have mechanisms that are specifically designed to discriminate against certain groups of voters. Then, the Justice Department will come down on them and file suit.

The one point I want to make though is that even with all the efforts that were made, let's say in the last election, folks still voted.

And, if people feel engaged enough and have a sense of a stake in our democracy, you'll be able to vote. Our biggest problem right now is not the misguided efforts of some of these state legislators. Our bigger problem is the one you alluded to earlier, which is people's skepticism that government in fact can make a difference.

Even in the best of years these days we still have about 40 percent of the population who is eligible to vote that chooses to opt out. And they're not being turned away at the polls, they're turning themselves away from the polls. That's something we've got to get at, and young people in particular have a tendency to vote during presidential years and then just are not excited at all during mid-terms. These mid-term elections in many ways are even more important because that is what is going to determine who's in charge of Congress, and you may agree with me or disagree with me but don't think that it all ends with me.

It's also important who's the Speaker of the House and who's in charge of the Senate. And I hope young people increasingly understand that.

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