NEW YORK -- President Barack Obama on Friday deplored what he called a Republican campaign to deny voting rights to millions of Americans, as he stepped up efforts to rally his political base heading into a competitive midterm campaign season.
Appearing at the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network in New York City, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of trying to rig the elections by making it harder for older people, women, minorities and the impoverished to cast ballots in swing states that could determine control of the Senate.
"The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago," Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. "Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote."
Speaking a day after the end of a three-day conference at the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Mr. Obama linked the issue to the movement that helped pave the way for him to become the nation's first black president. "America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others, only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren," he said.
Republicans in some swing states have advanced new laws that go beyond the voter identification requirements of recent years. Among other efforts, state lawmakers are pushing measures to limit the time polls are open and to cut back early voting, particularly weekend balloting that makes it easier for lower-income voters to participate. Other measures would eliminate same-day registration, make it more difficult to cast provisional ballots or curb the mailing of absentee ballots.
Over the past 15 months, at least nine states have enacted voting changes making it harder to cast ballots. A federal judge last month upheld laws in Arizona and Kansas requiring proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a passport, leading other states to explore following suit.
Sponsors of such laws have said they are trying to prevent voter fraud and argue that Democrats overstate the impact of common-sense measures in their crass and transparent effort to rile up their most fervent political supporters. "They want to create an issue out of nothing," said Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer. "The bottom line is, they know they're on the wrong side of the issues that are important with voters, and the only way they can win is by scaring their base into voting."
The focus on voting rights came in the same week when Mr. Obama and other Democrats highlighted efforts to combat pay inequality for women, another critical constituency in the fall campaign. The president continues to promote an increase in the minimum wage, an issue popular with core Democratic voters, as well as with some Republicans.