In a press briefing today, Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged that “the amount of time and energy that Republicans have spent trying to make it more difficult for people to — for eligible voters to cast a ballot is mind-boggling.” Earnest deadpanned, “I’m not really sure what they’re scared of.”
Earnest also called out the point, “(t)here is documented evidence that those were strategies that were predicated on a political benefit for Republicans.”
From the press briefing:
Q All right. On another subject, there’s a big controversy brewing in Alabama. Thirty-one DMV offices in minority, rural, urban communities have been shut down, and that at a time when there is concern about the infringement on voting rights as well as this upsurge with voter ID. What does this administration feel about that? And what particularly is this White House looking at in reaction to this, if there will be a reaction?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I did see that Secretary Clinton had an opportunity to talk about this issue, and she expressed I think some legitimate concerns about measures that we’re seeing, once again, being put in place to try to make it harder for people to vote. The amount of time and energy that Republicans have spent trying to make it more difficult for people to — for eligible voters to cast a ballot is mind-boggling. I’m not really sure what they’re scared of. But the fact is the President, I think on a number of occasions, has made clear that the principle of allowing eligible voters to cast a vote is central to our democracy. And I think the President said that much more eloquently than I just did when he traveled to Alabama himself earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma.
So I’m not steeped in the details of this particular matter, but we certainly would urge — well, let me just say this. When the President spoke in Selma, the President talked about how we should be able to build bipartisan support for those kinds of policies that protect the right of eligible citizens to vote. And the President delivered a call to action to encourage Democrats and Republicans to come together to renew the Voting Rights Act, and to do more to ensure that that sacred right in our democracy is protected for eligible voters.
That continues to be our principle here. And we hope that both Democrats and Republicans in Alabama, and in every other state in the country, can live up to that principle.
Q So the governor of Alabama is saying that it’s not racial. The two issues here — voter suppression and possibly racial discrimination — do you see both clearly? Does this White House see both clearly?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to comment on this specific matter because I haven’t had an opportunity to look carefully at it. I do think that it sort of — I think that the reason that we’re having this conversation is because there are legitimate concerns that have been raised about voter ID laws in the first place. And we’ve seen reports that some Republicans — many Republicans across the country acknowledge that this has a political impact that benefits Republicans, and in some cases, has a disproportionate impact on certain populations.
Q But when you get into the weeds of what you just said, that’s race. Am I correct?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that’s what some people have observed. But again, I’m not talking about this particular incident because I don’t know enough about the details to talk about it. But when it comes to voter ID laws, when it comes to the way that Republicans have, time and again, taken steps and implemented policies that make it more difficult for eligible voters to cast a ballot, yes, in some cases, there is documented evidence that those were strategies that were predicated on a political benefit for Republicans. And that certainly runs counter to some of the basic and most important principles of our democracy.
Earnest wouldn’t answer as to whether the Department of Justice would be getting involved, and directed reporters to them.
As reported here by Keith Brekhus on October 1 of this year,
In 2011, Alabama passed a voter ID law that required voters to provide a government-issued state ID to vote in elections. Critics charged that the law would make it disproportionately difficult for poor voters and African-American voters in the state to vote. Republicans brushed off those criticisms by suggesting that the voter ID law was instead designed to eliminate in-person voter fraud, despite the fact that in-person voter fraud is almost non-existent.
However, Alabama has announced that it is now closing 31 driver’s license bureaus throughout the state, leaving 29 of the state’s counties without an office where voters can easily obtain a state-issued driver’s license. Not coincidentally, the impact of closures will be disproportionately felt by low-income voters. Also unsurprisingly, offices targeted for closure are heavily concentrated in predominately African-American, Democratic-leaning counties.
Republicans are desperate to keep people from voting because it’s the only way they have a chance of winning. How pathetic is that?
2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the closures a blast from the Jim Crow past, urging Republicans to “listen to their consciences.”
Insert laughter here.
Republicans should be afraid of getting a reputation as the party against liberty because that would make their flag waving, and war drums a bit difficult to sell.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.