‘That has to change:’ Bernie Sanders slams efforts to suppress voting rights

© Brendan Smialowsky
Democracy is about everyone having the right to vote, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told RT. The 2016 contender called for an end to conservative efforts that aim to restrict voting rights, especially in minority communities.

“What democracy is about is all people having the right to participate in the political process,” he said. “Not making it harder for people to vote. Not suppressing the vote. Not having long lines where people have to wait hours to cast their vote.”

“And that has got to change.”

Sanders highlighted the results of various campaigns seeking to limit the right to vote in states such as North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. Proposals have ranged from cutting the time allowed for early voting and eliminating same-day voter registration to rejecting several different kinds of photo identification.

Sanders made the comments during a 1,000-mile march being completed by hundreds of people from Selma, Alabama to Washington, DC’s Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday. The march was intended to highlight the struggle for equality in minority communities in the realms such as voting rights, education and the criminal justice system.

The candidate, a self-proclaimed socialist, railed against Republicans for what he sees as a restrictive voting rights agenda.

“It's just simply cowardly that these governors and legislatures are making it harder for poor people, for elderly people and people of color to participate in our political process,” he said to the New York Daily News.

One thing activists are pushing for is the passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, which was introduced after the Supreme Court rejected part of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ruling permitted states with troubled racial histories to change their election laws without the approval of the federal government.

In the wake of the ruling, state lawmakers in North Carolina passed a law that cut early voting by one week, tossed out same-day registration during this time, eliminated the pre-registration program for teens nearing the 18-year-old right-to-vote threshold, and implemented a new photo identification requirement, among other changes.

The law is being challenged in the courts.

READ MORE: Wisconsin's tough voter ID law upheld after Supreme Court declines to hear case

In Wisconsin, a law was passed that required the presentation of photo IDs prior to voting, a move that critics say disproportionally affects blacks and minorities who may lack the right kind of ID, as well as elderly voters. A federal appeals court permitted the law to stay on the books and the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court rejected a Texas law passed in 2011 that required specific types of photo identification to be presented. For example, concealed handgun licenses would have been acceptable, but university IDs – held disproportionally by younger voters – were not allowed.

"Unless we enact reform that provides easy access for all voters, we will continue to miss 30 million voters from working families. If we don't root out big money in politics, the oligarchy of the wealthy will increasingly control our government," Larry Cohen, an adviser for Sanders and the former president of the Communication Workers of America, wrote last month on Sanders’ campaign website.

Elsewhere at the rally, Sanders pushed for reform of the criminal justice system, which studies show disproportionally incarcerates minorities such as blacks and Latinos. According to the Daily News, he endorsed a re-examination of the War on Drugs and an end to mandatory minimum sentencing, as well as improved help for those who are released from prison.

The US, he said, has to “end the disgrace that we have more people in jail than any other country on earth.”

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