By: David Knowles
Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand
The growing numbers of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are setting their sights on expanding voter participation, over objections from Republicans.
“Our campaign is about creating a vibrant democracy with the highest voter turnout of any major country on earth,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, said in a video released Tuesday announcing his 2020 candidacy,“while we end voter suppression, Citizens United and outrageous levels of gerrymandering.”
In 2014, Sanders introduced legislation to make Election Day a national holiday, meant to increase voter turnout, and he voiced support for H.R. 1, the first bill passed this year by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, which would do the same.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mocked that proposal, although 22 states, including Kentucky, already mandate paid time off to vote on Election Day.
“Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work … [on Democratic] campaigns,” McConnell said in a Jan. 29 speech on the Senate floor. “This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? … A power grab.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., took issue with McConnell’s characterization.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has framed the issue in terms of countering what she claims is a Republican campaign of voter suppression.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., agrees that boosting voter participation is a top priority.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is also on board with automatic voter registration.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 61.4 percent of eligible adults voted in the 2016 presidential election, down slightly from the 63.6 percent who voted in 2008. While 65.3 percent of eligible white Americans voted in 2016, just 59.6 percent of African-Americans, 49.3 percent of Asian-Americans and 47.6 percent of Hispanic-Americans did.
While some states have passed measures in recent years to ease voter registration and expand early voting, others have moved to impose restrictions, such as strict voter I.D. laws, which are almost invariably backed by Republicans, according to a November report published in the New York Times.