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Obama sees bipartisan voter access proposal next year

U.S. President Barack Obama is interviewed on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" at American University in Washington December 5, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama is interviewed on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" at American University in Washington December 5, 2013.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday he expects a blue-ribbon panel to soon propose reforms that both parties can back to address concerns over the long waiting times some American voters experienced at the polls in 2012.

"Early next year, we're going to put forward what we know will be a bipartisan effort or a bipartisan proposal to encourage people to vote," he said in an interview on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews."

"You can't say you take pride in American democracy, American constitutionalism, American exceptionalism, and then you're doing everything you can to make it harder for people to vote as opposed to easier for people to vote."

In his State of the Union address in February, the president vowed to smooth the voting process after stories of long lines and other obstacles during the 2012 election. He assigned the top attorney to his 2012 re-election campaign, Bob Bauer, and his counterpart from the rival Republican Mitt Romney's campaign, Ben Ginsberg, to lead a group to recommend how to reduce waiting times at polling sites.

More controversial are state laws requiring voters to present identification in order to cast their ballots. Such laws, passed by some three dozen states, have become a political and racial flashpoint - Democrats usually oppose the measures while Republicans support them.

Obama said his administration would take legal action if it has evidence that such laws, referred to as voter ID laws, violate citizens' voting rights.

"If we have evidence that you have mechanisms that are specifically designed to discriminate against certain groups of voters, then the Justice Department will come down on them and file suit," he said.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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