WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Sunday signed an executive order aimed at promoting voting rights amid a push by Republican-led state legislatures to roll back voting access in the wake of former president Donald Trump’s 2020 loss and his baseless effort to cast doubt on the integrity of U.S. elections.
The order comes on the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the day on which state troopers violently beat hundreds of marchers, including John Lewis, the late civil rights icon and Democratic congressman from Georgia, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
“Today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I am signing an executive order to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting,” Biden said Sunday in a videotaped address to the Martin and Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast. “Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.”
The order directs federal agencies to develop a strategic plan for promoting voter registration and participation, including potentially applying to be a state-designated voter registration agency and providing recommendations on leave for federal employees to vote or to serve as poll workers.
Some states have programs to automatically register eligible Americans to vote, unless they opt out, when they interact with DMVs as well as state agencies that administer federal programs such as military recruitment, Medicaid and food stamps. Under the Trump administration, however, some federal agencies refused to share the data that would allow states to automatically register voters this way, citing concerns about the privacy of health data. Biden’s executive order instructs federal agencies to relax that policy.
The order also aims to expand access to voting among active-duty members of the military as well as to all eligible federally incarcerated people.
And it establishes a steering group on Native American voting rights tasked with producing recommendations by next year on expanding voter outreach and turnout among Native American communities.
Biden’s move comes days after the House passed expansive legislation to create uniform national voting standards, overhaul campaign finance laws and outlaw partisan redistricting. The measure, H.R. 1, largely mirrors a bill passed by the chamber two years ago. But it has faced fierce Republican attacks that threaten to stop it cold in the Senate.
The bill’s voting provisions would guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections; require states to use their government records to automatically register citizens to vote; restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences; and mandate the use of paper ballots.
During his remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Trump blasted H.R. 1, accusing Democrats of wanting to register all welfare recipients to vote.
No Republicans voted for the bill in 2019 or last week, when it was approved 220 to 210.
Dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatures, meanwhile, are considering sweeping new laws that would restrict voting options ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Critics argue that the proposed laws, which would restrict absentee balloting, early voting and other aspects of election administration, represent a cynical ploy to make it harder primarily for Democratic voters to participate.
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The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.