Clinton: Alabama voting restrictions ‘a blast from the Jim Crow past’

Updated 7:34 PM EDT, Sat October 17, 2015
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a meeting of the Alabama Democratic Conference in Hoover, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. Clinton tells black Alabama Democrats that she'd champion voting rights in the White House. She says Republicans are dismantling the progress of the civil rights movement. (AP Photo/Mark Almond)
Mark Almond/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a meeting of the Alabama Democratic Conference in Hoover, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. Clinton tells black Alabama Democrats that she'd champion voting rights in the White House. She says Republicans are dismantling the progress of the civil rights movement. (AP Photo/Mark Almond)
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Story highlights

Alabama announced last week that it would close 31 locations at which residents can obtain or renew their licenses

Democrats, however, have charged that the decision to close the offices is politically motivated

(CNN) —  

Hillary Clinton used a speech here Saturday to slam Alabama Republicans, including Gov. Robert Bentley, for the state’s decision to close 31 driver’s license offices and require proof of citizenship to vote.

Speaking at Alabama Democratic Conference’s Convention, Clinton called the plan “a blast from the Jim Crow past” and asked for Bentley and the Republican-controlled legislature “to not only listen to their constituents, but listen to their consciences.”

“We have to defend the most fundamental right in our democracy, the right to vote,” Clinton said. “No one in this state, no one, should ever forget the history that enabled generations of people left out and left behind to finally be able to vote.”

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced last week that an $11 million cut in the budget would force the closing of 31 part-time, county-owned satellite locations at which residents can obtain or renew their licenses. The state expects some of the needs of those who would have used such offices to be met online.

Democrats have charged that the governor’s decision to close identification offices is politically motivated due to the state’s strict voter identification laws and will disproportionately affect African-American voters.

Clinton also nationalized the state issue, hitting Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich – all Republicans running for president – for their positions on voting rights.

“What part of democracy are these Republicans so afraid of?” Clinton asked, noting that Bush said he would not reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and Kasich ended early voting after the 2008 election.

“This is wrong,” Clinton said. “Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched and John Lewis bled, it is hard to believe we are back having this same debate about whether or not every American gets a chance to vote and exercise his rights.”

At times during Clinton’s speech, the former secretary of state sounded more Southern than she usually does. “Some of you may remember, President Obama and I went at it pretty good,” she said about the 2008 election. The refrain, however, sounded more like “purdy guud.”

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Clinton also headlined a morning fundraiser in Birmingham hosted by Rep. Terri Sewell, the only African-American in the state’s congressional delegation.

Sewell told CNN after the event that Clinton addressed the voting rights laws then, too, and was well received by the invited guests.

Sewell has been outspoken about the state’s decision to close the driver’s license offices. Sewell sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday calling for a “full and thorough investigation” into the matter.

“This decision will leave eight out of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters without a Department of Motor Vehicles to issue an Alabama driver’s license,” Sewell wrote in the one-page letter. “This fact combined with Alabama’s voter ID law means that the DMV closure decision will disproportionately affect African-American voters in violation of their constitutionally protected right to vote.”

Clinton’s Alabama trip caps off a frantic post-debate blitz that saw the former secretary of state headline seven events in four states in four days. Clinton also headlined two fundraisers in the process.

Cornerstone of her campaign

Clinton has made voting rights a cornerstone of her six-month-old presidential campaign. Clinton told an audience at the historically black Texas Southern University in June that she supports the concept of signing up every American to vote as soon as they’re eligible at age 18, unless they specifically opt out. She called for expanded access to polling places, keeping them open for at least 20 days and offering voting hours on evenings and weekends.

Saturday was not the first time Clinton politicizes her voting rights call. The first time Clinton ever attacked Republicans by name during her presidential campaign was the same June speech, when the Democratic front-runner hit Texas’s Rick Perry, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Jeb Bush and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, calling for them to “stop fear-mongering about a phantom epidemic of voter fraud.”

Republicans hit back against Clinton’s critiques in June. Ohio Gov. John Kasich accused her of using “demagoguery” to try to “divide” Americans with the attacks, while Christie suggested she just wanted opportunities to commit voter fraud.

CNN’s Athena Jones contributed to this report.