Once more titillating political pundits and junkies – who are calling odds on her joining the 2016 presidential contest – Hillary Clinton kicked off a series of speeches with an impassioned call for the protection of voting rights which she sees being eroded by conservative forces across the United States.
She was in part responding to a controversial Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer that effectively neutered the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This obliged states with dodgy records of assuring equal access for minorities to polling stations to seek pre-clearance from the federal government before tinkering with their election arrangements. Democrats from President Barack Obama on down and civil rights groups loudly condemned the change.
“Anyone who says racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention,” Ms Clinton told the annual gathering of the American Bar Association on Monday night.
In several senses, it was a well-timed intervention. The national political stage is mostly open this week with the first family and members of Congresses on their August breaks. And she took the podium at the same time almost to the hour as the Republican Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, was signing into law what may be the most restrictive and oppressive set of voter ID measures anywhere in the country.
North Carolina, Texas and Florida have all moved since the Supreme Court ruling to toughen voter ID laws, allegedly to curb voter fraud even though there is scant evidence that it is a real problem. The North Carolina law will require all voters for the first time to show a picture driving licence at polling stations, will cut early voting by a full week and will no longer allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by election day to register to vote early.
“Our government cannot fully represent the people unless it has been fairly elected by them,” Ms Clinton declared on Monday night. She meanwhile notified her audience that she has other big speeches up her sleeve – one, which she will deliver soon in Philadelphia, on the conflict between national intelligence surveillance and privacy and another on America’s place in global affairs.
Since leaving the State Department on 1 February, Ms Clinton has mostly laid low and it may not be until after mid-term congressional elections in November next year that she will reveal her true intentions regarding a possible presidential run. At the very least, however, she seems intent on keeping her political engines tuned and preventing any perception from developing that she is absent from the important debates of the time.
In her speech, Ms Clinton was voicing the concern of many in her party that the changes now being sought by conservative states like North Carolina are thinly disguised attempts to repress voting by people on the margins, who would normally vote Democrat.
“When he ran for governor, Pat McCrory pretended to be a moderate pragmatist,” a spokesman for the Democratic Governors’ Association said. “Today, he proved that he’s just another cynical, ultra-conservative ideologue intent on disenfranchising voters who might not be inclined to vote Republican.”