N.Y. Times, Aug. 13, 2013
By David Firestone
Hillary Clinton seized upon exactly the right issues in her return to political life this week, issuing a firm defense of voting rights Monday in a speech to the American Bar Association. The danger is that she will see this as a box that’s been checked, an obligation addressed, and will then move on to other subjects in a policy parade.
That would be a mistake, because there is no graver issue at the moment than the ability of one political party to diminish the voting power of another, through outright abuse or through financial domination. Underlying all the gridlock holding back progress on the economy, on education, on the environment and so many other matters are abuses of the electoral system: The gerrymandering of districts to create safe seats for incumbents, which vastly magnifies the power of the right. The use of unlimited, undisclosed money to give an outsized voice to corporations and the rich of both parties. And the systematic reduction in ballot access for minorities, the poor, students, and the elderly, all designed to reduce Democratic turnout.
Ms. Clinton talked mostly about the latter issue, condemning the Supreme Court for overturning part of the Voting Rights Act and criticizing state governments (largely dominated by Republicans) that have imposed unnecessary voter ID laws and cut back on programs that made it easier for a wider variety of people to vote.
“Anyone who says racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention,” she said, adding: “Our government cannot fully represent the people unless it has been fairly elected by them.”
She attacked what she called the “phantom epidemic of voter ID fraud,” and did so on the same day that the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against what may be the harshest anti-voter law in the country, signed into law a few hours earlier by Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina.
But there is so much more to say, and so many other abuses. Kansas, for example, is refusing to register thousands of people who have not complied with a blatantly illegal proof-of-citizenship requirement that goes far beyond federal standards for registration. (The ACLU will probably have to file suit there, too, assuming the federal government does not.) Campaign finance issues deserve a speech just as impassioned as the one on voting rights, and it will be interesting to see if Ms. Clinton devotes more time to the subject than President Obama has.
Building a campaign around these kinds of issues particularly non-partisan redistricting and easy registration — has always been seen as too narrow and too wonky for a major candidate. But Ms. Clinton’s political future, not to mention the health of her party and her country, depend on someone taking them on and not letting go. And should Ms. Clinton succeed Mr. Obama, she will encounter precisely the same kind of blanket opposition in the House unless she starts trying to change it now.
She can start by using her popularity to urge greater turnout in next year’s midterm elections and in off-year state elections. The North Carolina law would never have passed if more people had paid attention and turned out in state elections. And once people begin fighting ballot restrictions and exercising their power at the state level, voting might just become a habit.
© 2013 The New York Times