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Moments into a rally speech to support Virginia’s Democratic candidate for governor Terry McAuliffe, former President Barack Obama condemned Republicans’ refusal to support voting rights and GOP conspiracy theories about the 2020 election that dominate mid-term campaigns.
“You have to ask yourself: Why is it that Republicans don’t want you to vote?” he said on 23 October. “What is it they’re so afraid of? I would assume, if they think they’ve got better ideas, why don’t they make the case? Tell us your ideas. Tell us why you think they’ll be better.”
He added: “Explain it. If you’ve got good ideas people will flock to your ideas. But that’s not what they do. Instead they try to rig elections.”
This week, Senate Republicans blocked, for a third time, a sweeping federal voting rights package that aimed to create national standards for early voting and voter registration and to ban partisan gerrymandering.
Instead of supporting debate around the bill or promoting their own ideas to protect voting rights, Republican lawmakers “start to fabricate lies and conspiracy theories about the last election, the one [they] didn’t win,” Mr Obama said.
Republican lawmakers have waged a nationwide campaign around “election integrity” after Donald Trump failed to overturn the results of the 2020 election on spurious claims of voter fraud, which fuelled an attack on the Capitol to overturn those votes.
A least 19 states have enacted 33 GOP-backed restrictive voting laws this year, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice.
States also are beginning the once-a-decade redrawing of political maps for the first time since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1964 without federal guardrails to prevent racial discrimination at the polls, after the US Supreme Court gutted critical oversight provisions from the landmark civil rights law.
Mr Obama assailed Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who was endorsed by Mr Trump and has embraced his baseless fraud narratives.
The former president said Mr Youngkin is “encouraging the lies and conspiracy theories we’ve had to live through all this time, and yet we’re supposed to believe he’s gonna stand up for our democracy?”
“When your supporters hold a rally, when they pledge allegiance to a flag that was flown at the insurrection on 6 January, the biggest threat to democracy in my lifetime, when you don’t separate yourselves from them when you don’t think that’s a problem – you know what? That’s a problem,” he said.
Mr Youngkin either “actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in the mob, or he doesn’t believe in them and he’s willing to go along with them to say or do anything to get elected,” Mr Obama said.
“What are you willing to stand up for?” he added. “What are you willing to say ‘no’ to your own supporters? When are you willing to say there are things more important than getting elected, and maybe democracy is one of those things.”
At another rally in New Jersey on Saturday to support the governor Phil Murphy’s reelection campaign, Mr Obama criticised GOP opponent Jack Ciattarelli for appearing at the Stop the Steal rally that preceded the riots at the US Capitol on 6 January.
“When you’re standing in front of a sign that says ‘Stop the Steal’ and there’s a guy in the crowd waving a confederate flag, you know this isn’t a neighborhood barbecue,” Mr Obama said. “That’s not what New Jersey needs.”
While Congress has deadlocked on voting rights legislation and other states roll back ballot access, Virginia lawmakers have passed several measures to protect and extend the right to vote in the state.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed the Voting Rights Act of Virginia – the first southern state with its own version of the law – to impose on itself the same standards for writing new election rules under previous federal preclearance guidelines.
Within the last two years, the state’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam have secured no-excuse mail-in ballots, repealed a restrictive voter ID law, enacted automatic voter registration and made Election Day a state holiday.