-By Reid Wilson
August 19, 2013- After crying foul over Republican efforts to modify election laws in key states, Democrats are launching their own wide-ranging push to change the way Americans vote, kicking off the latest battles in a fight over voting rights that’s as old as the republic itself.
Last week, operatives tied to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee launched what they call a 50-state initiative to promote voting reforms that would make it easier to cast a ballot. The effort is being run by American Values First, an outside group organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and run by Michael Sargeant, the DLCC’s executive director. Democrats will push legislation similar to a Colorado measure signed into law earlier this year that requires all elections to be conducted by mail.
Legislators in at least seven other states will propose bills that would tweak election laws in other ways. In some states controlled by Democrats, the measures have a good chance to pass. In other states with divided control or that operate under Republican control, Democrats plan to use the measures as political cudgels, painting the GOP as opposed to basic voting rights.
The new push comes in response to Republican initiatives to rewrite election laws in key states. Republicans in North Carolina and Florida moved to cut the number of days on which a voter can cast a ballot early. Arizona and Florida both imposed new restrictions on groups that sign up voters for absentee ballots. And Republican-led legislatures in states from New Hampshire to Michigan to Florida passed legislation requiring voters to show photo identification before they receive a ballot.
Democrats have criticized the new rules as overly restrictive, making it more difficult for an eligible voter to cast a ballot. Their legislative response: Make it easier for eligible Americans to register to vote and to sign up to receive a ballot by mail.
“What we’re promoting is ease of access,” Sargeant said. “People are getting mobilized now to push back against these far-right attempts to limit democracy. Some of these efforts [by Republicans] have been ignored for too long, and now people understand that this is not something you can sit back and watch. You have to get involved and stop it.”
Sargeant wouldn’t comment on the new group’s budget. American Values First launched last week in Atlanta, during a meeting of the National Conference on State Legislators.