Biden signs executive order aimed at increasing voting access
President Biden on Sunday signed an executive order leveraging federal resources to protect and strengthen access to the ballot as Republican legislatures around the country seek to restrict voting rights following the 2020 election.
Biden’s order directs agencies to increase access to voter registration materials and reduce barriers to voting for certain groups, including military and overseas voters, Native Americans, and people with disabilities.
The president on Sunday also spoke at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast to outline his focus on voting rights. The order and speech come on the 56th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala. The violent clash between 600 civil rights marchers and white police officers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 served as a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
“Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have it counted,” Biden said at the breakfast. “If you have the best ideas — you have nothing to hide. Let more people vote.”
Administration officials signaled the executive order is intended as a direct response to the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, triggered by weeks of false claims from former President Trump and his allies about fraud in the 2020 election, as well as subsequent efforts from state legislatures to roll back voting rights.
Biden’s executive order prompts federal agencies to use their websites and social media platforms to share information about voter registration and distribute vote-by-mail applications in the course of regular services.
The order also aims to modernize Vote.gov, an official voter registration site run by the federal government, to improve accessibility and upgrade the user experience.
The rest of the order focuses on strengthening voter access for specific groups more likely to face obstacles to voting. For example, the order directs the attorney general to establish protocols to provide educational materials about voting for eligible individuals who are being held under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The order also establishes a steering group on Native American voting rights.
“The president is using his voice, his authority, to make clear his view that people should choose through voting what they want and should be able to vote on the best ideas, and that it is not democratic to discourage access to the vote,” an administration official said.
Biden’s steps to improve voting access will not supersede state laws, as elections are administered by state and local officials. Republican-run states in particular have moved quickly to restrict ballot access after the 2020 election saw record turnout and a surge in mail-in voting amid the pandemic.
Overall, more than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states that would restrict access to the ballot box. The swing states of Georgia and Arizona have seen legislators pass initiatives to limit absentee and early voting.
Congressional Democrats have moved to enact sweeping reforms to strengthen voting rights, though the path to passage remains murky.
The House last week passed the For The People Act, which would require states to offer mail-in ballots and a minimum of 15 days of early voting and calls for online and same-day voter registration. The legislation also calls for the creation of independent commissions to draw congressional districts in an effort to put an end to partisan gerrymandering.
Republicans have been united in opposition to the bill, which would require at least 10 GOP votes in the Senate if every Democrat in the upper chamber votes in favor of it. Biden has urged the bill’s passage.
Updated at 3:05 p.m.
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