LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden urged the NAACP on Wednesday to spread the word about what he called "a hailstorm" of measures to restrict citizens' ability to vote, trying to rally the Democratic Party's base before the midterm elections.
In a 31-minute speech to the civil rights group's annual convention in Las Vegas, Biden said there have been 83 attempts this year alone in 29 states to restrict voting rights. The measures stiffen requirements on identification needed to vote, or limit or end early voting.
"These moves to limit the right to vote are nothing more than pure politics, masquerading as attempts to combat corruption where there is none," Biden said.
Civil rights groups complain the measures make it harder for minorities to vote because they have less access to identification and depend more on early voting. Biden said if the laws had been in effect during the 2012 election and only six percent of black voters who cast their ballots had been unable to vote, President Obama would have lost Florida rather than narrowly winning the state.
Biden also criticized the Republican judges on the U.S. Supreme Court who last year gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, noting the measure had strong bipartisan support for decades. He said that after former segregationist Strom Thurmond voted to reauthorize the measure in the 1980s and Republicans continued to support the law "I thought we had finally won."
Biden's speech was part of a swing through liberal political gatherings by the vice president, who has been eclipsed by Hillary Clinton as Democrats jockey for position in 2016. He will speak to the National Urban League in Ohio on Thursday.
The emphasis on voting rights is also an effort to motivate minority voters who are more likely to sit out midterm elections like the upcoming one in November. Blacks voted at a greater rate than whites for the first time in history in 2012 and some observers believe the efforts to restrict voting access backfired and increased African-American turnout.
Hours later, Biden spoke to about 200 activists gathered to support Erin Bilbray, a Democrat who is challenging Republican Rep. Joe Heck in a swing district in the Las Vegas suburbs. The vice president scoffed at pundits' predictions that Democrats are in for a drubbing in November, contending that "for the first time in my life" the public agrees with the party on all major issues, from gay marriage to immigration to the minimum wage.
"The reports of the demise of the Democratic Party," Biden said, "are premature."