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Republicans fire back at Clinton on voting rights records

During a speech on expanding voting last week, Hillary Clinton called out four current and former Republican governors - who are also declared or likely 2016 candidates - for the policies they had pursued on voting in their own states.

"What is happening is a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people and young people from one end of our country to the other," Clinton said during a speech at the Texas Southern University in Houston, a historically black college.

Clinton accused each of the four Republicans she named of signing laws or otherwise making it harder for minorities and young people to vote. Texas Gov. Rick Perry - who entered the presidential race Thursday - signed a law that a federal court said was written to discriminate against minority voters, and he applauded the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act, she said. She criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for cutting back early voting and signing legislation making it harder for college students to vote. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation to extend early voting, Clinton said, and she added that state officials oversaw a "deeply flawed purge of voters" ahead of the 2000 election when Jeb Bush was Florida governor.

"Today, Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting. What part of democracy are they afraid of?" Clinton said. "I call on Republicans at all levels of government with all manner of ambition to stop fear mongering about a phantom epidemic of election fraud and start explaining why they're so scared of letting citizens have their say."

Over the next four days three out of the four responded - plus Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whom Clinton did not mention.

Rick Perry

Clinton's charge: "Here in Texas, Former Governor Rick Perry signed a law that a federal court said was actually written with the purpose of discriminating against minority voters. He applauded when the Voting Rights Act was gutted and said the laws' protections were out dated and unnecessary."

Perry, in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, responded and then criticized Clinton for being out of touch with the country.

"I think that the people of the state of Texas overwhelming support voter identification. And that's what this is really about. Hillary Clinton believes that all wisdom emanates out of Washington D.C. She's the classic Washington insider," Perry said.

"She's basically looking at the people of Texas and other states that have put types of voter identification laws into place and saying, 'We don't trust you,'" he said.

Earlier, in an interview with Fox News, he denied the charge that he didn't want minorities to vote, saying that Texas has done plenty to empower minorities.

"The highest high-school graduation rate for African Americans in America is in the State of Texas. The highest Hispanic graduation rate is in Texas," he said.

On CNN's "State of the Union" he was asked about two of Clinton's specific proposals - a minimum of 20 days of in-person early voting in every state, plus making Election Day a national holiday - Perry said, "I think we make it pretty easy in the state of Texas for people to vote."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Texas holds early voting beginning 17 days before an election until four days before Election Day. The state ranked 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for turnout during the 2012 elections, with 50.1 percent turnout, according to Nonprofit Vote, a nonpartisan group aimed at increasing voter participation. Turnout dropped 9.2 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Scott Walker

The charge: "In Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cut back early voting and signed legislation that would make it harder for college students to vote," Clinton said.

Walker addressed the issue extensively with reporters at Saturday at Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst's Roast and Ride event in Boone, Iowa.

"In our state we have a photo ID requirement that would make it easy to vote and hard to cheat," Walker said. "I think that's a good example where her statements of late show that she's firmly out of touch with I think where mainstream America is."

Well what about universal voter registration, one of Clinton's proposals in her speech? Walker's response was a shrug and a shake of his head - and a nod to Wisconsin's record turnout rates.

"From our standpoint, we think we've got one of the most effective systems right now where we have one of the highest levels of voter participation," Walker said. "We've got a pretty good system."

In the 2012 general election, Wisconsin had the second-highest voter-turnout rate in the nationwith 73 percent of the population participating. The state trailed just behind Minnesota, which had a 76 percent turnout rate. Wisconsin also ranked second in the nation during the 2008 general election. The state allows "in-person absentee voting" beginning on the third Monday before the election and ending at 7 p.m. the Friday before Election Day, according to NCSL, meaning that voters can apply for an absentee ballot without an excuse and cast the ballot in a single trip to an election office.

Walker said requirements for voter identification should be left up to the states. He called the requirement for a photo ID "common sense," and said that in Wisconsin people have plenty of ways of providing a photo ID that are easy and available upon request without cost.

Chris Christie

The charge: "In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie vetoed legislation to extend early voting."

Christie said Clinton "doesn't know what she's talking about," in an interview on "Face the Nation,"

"In New Jersey, we have early voting that are available to people. I don't want to expand it and increase the opportunities for fraud," he said. "Maybe that's what Mrs. Clinton wants to do. I don't know. But the fact is that the folks in New Jersey have plenty of an opportunity to vote. And maybe, you know, if she took some questions some places and learned some things, maybe she wouldn't make such ridiculous statements."

On the charge that Republicans are fear mongering about voter fraud, Christie said, "Yeah, well, she's never been to New Jersey, I guess."

In 2013, Christie vetoed a bill from the Democratically-controlled New Jersey legislature that would have let voters cast ballots at designated polling places during a 15-day period before Election Day, according to The Star-Ledger. Christie called the bill, "hasty, counterproductive and less reliable" compared to the current system.

"I support responsible and cost-efficient election reform that increases voter participation because democracy works best when the most people vote," Christie said. "But this bill risks the integrity and orderly administration of our elections by introducing a new voting method and process."

New Jersey has in-person absentee voting starting 45 days before an election and ending at 3 p.m. the day before Election Day, according to NCSL. At 62.6 percent turnout during the 2012 election, New Jersey ranked 19th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for turnout.

Jeb Bush

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson, Getty Images

The charge: "In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, state authorities conducted a deeply flawed purge of voters before the presidential election in 2000."

Bush has not publicly addressed the issue since Clinton's remarks Thursday. The controversy Clinton referred to was an attempt by Florida officials to remove felons from the voter rolls ahead of the election. The agency hired to produce the list of felons used broad parameters to identify them, resulting in a list of more than 50,000 names of people who were told they had to prove their innocence or automatically be dropped from voter rolls. Twenty of Florida's counties ignored the order because they said the data was unreliable, according to Politifact.

Critics of Florida's actions allege that the mistakes - which resulted in some felons being mistakenly allowed to vote, while some people who were legitimate voters were denied their vote because they were suspected of being felons - could have changed the course of the 2000 election, which hinged on a slim margin of 537 votes.

An investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that, "Florida's overzealous efforts to purge voters from the rolls, conducted under the guise of an anti-fraud campaign, resulted in the inexcusable and patently unjust removal of disproportionate numbers of African American voters from Florida's voter registration rolls for the November 2000 election."

The commission also said that their report "does not find that the highest officials of the state conspired to disenfranchise voters." But it did fault officials for failing in their responsibility to ensure efficiency, uniformity and fairness in the election.

John Kasich

Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. Darren McCollester, Getty Images

Clinton mentioned neither Gov. John Kasich nor his state of Ohio in her speech. But Marc Elias, the general counsel for the Clinton campaign, is among a group of lawyers challenging recent Ohio voting laws that eliminate an early voting period that allowed voters to register and cast their ballot on the same day (Elias told the Columbus Dispatch that he is not representing the Clinton campaign for the suit). The federal lawsuit argues the measures are designed to suppress the turnout among young voters and minority voters.

Kasich still weighed in on her remarks in a Fox News interview Friday, calling them "demagoguery."

"In Ohio, we have 28 days. In New York, where she's from, they have one day. Now, why are you suing me? Why don't you go sue your own people?" he said. "Why don't you take care of business at home before you're running around the country, you know, using these kind of demagogic statements that we don't want people to vote? I mean, it's just ridiculous."

Ohio's early voting begins 28 days before Election Day and ends at 2 p.m. the Monday before. New York has no early voting and requires an excuse for absentee voting. In the 2012 election, Ohio ranked 12th among 50 states and the District of Columbia with 65.2 percent turnout, while New York ranked 44th with 53.6 percent turnout.

On "Face the Nation" Sunday, host John Dickerson asked de Blasio whether Clinton's message was undermined by the fact that New York City which has Democratic leadership, also has very restrictive voting rules. De Blasio said that wasn't the case.

"I think she's saying the right thing because she's talking about a national vision," he said. "But I don't think New York City and New York state are doing well enough either. Our elections are governed by state law and for a long time I've believed we need to make a fundamental series of reforms. Let's face it, a lot of the people in the political class have tried to discourage voter involvement and a lot of incumbents prefer a very small electorate."

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