Biden signs executive order aimed at promoting voting rights

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

Washington — President Biden took unilateral action Sunday focused on voting rights and using the tools of the federal government to boost access for Americans to voter registration services.

Mr. Biden signed an executive order on the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when Alabama state troopers brutally attacked peaceful protesters fighting for the right to vote as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. 

“Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted,” Mr. Biden said in prepared remarks at the Martin & Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast on Sunday, according to the White House. “If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.”

The president’s order directs federal agencies to submit to the White House plans outlining ways they can boost voter registration and participation, such as by using their websites and social media to provide information on how to register to vote or distributing voter registration applications. The executive order also instructs federal agencies to help states with voter registration efforts under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and have the General Services Administration modernize Vote.gov, the federal government’s source of voting information.

Mr. Biden’s action aims to increase federal employees’ access to voting by directing the Office of Personnel Management to provide recommendations about leave for federal workers to vote or volunteer at polling places, and seeks to increase voter registration access for active-duty military, people with disabilities and eligible citizens in federal custody. 

The president’s focus on voting rights follows the House’s approval last week of a sweeping government and elections reform bill and as Republican-controlled state legislatures consider a bevy of measures that would restrict access to the ballot box. The legislation passed by the House creates automatic voter registration and expands absentee voting, but it is likely dead-on-arrival in the evenly divided Senate, where it takes 60 votes to end debate on a bill.

In his remarks to the breakfast, Mr. Biden praised the House for passing the voting rights legislation, saying it is “urgently needed to protect the right to vote, the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy.”

The president also pushed Congress to pass legislation named for the late Congressman John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, that restores the Voting Rights Act, a key provision of which was dismantled by the Supreme Court in a 2013 ruling.

“On this day of reflection, please, let’s stay focused on the work ahead,” Mr. Biden said. “Let’s remember all those who came before us as a bridge to our history so we do not forget its pain, and as a bridge to our future so we never lose our hope.”

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