Marking the 56th anniversary of Selma’s “Bloody Sunday,” President Joe Biden signed an executive order Sunday focused on ramping up voter registration efforts and making voting more accessible to marginalized Americans–a move the White House calls “an initial step” to protect voter rights as a sweeping new voting rights bill makes its way to the Senate.
The executive order directs federal agencies to ramp up their promotion of voter registration information and to support state government agencies in such efforts, citing campaigns by agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles that have helped register hundreds of millions of voters.
It also directs the Office of Personnel Management to come up with policies that provide leave for federal employees looking to vote or volunteer as poll workers, and asks the Secretary of Defense to set up a protocol that gives every active-duty member of the Armed Forces an opportunity to register to vote each year.
In prepared remarks Sunday, Biden signaled support for the voting rights bill passed in the House last week, a sweeping piece of legislation that would, among other things, automate voter registration and roll back state-level voter-ID requirements.
Dubbed the For the People Act of 2021 and marking the first piece of legislation introduced by the House in the current session, the bill is likely to fail in the Senate given a lack of support among Republicans and Democrats’ razor-thin, one-vote lead.
Biden’s Sunday order coincides with the 56th anniversary of the march across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during which police officers beat and tear gassed hundreds of peaceful civil rights protestors, including former Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Speaking to MSNBC on Sunday, House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he thinks Democrats can work to reinstate the Voting Rights Act in honor of Lewis by August 6–exactly 56 years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law; the Supreme Court blocked one of the act’s key provisions in 2013.
“The legacy of the march in Selma is that while nothing can stop a free people from exercising their most sacred power as a citizen, there are those who will do everything they can to take that power away,” Biden said in prepared remarks Sunday. “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.”
Disputes over voting rights have come to a head in the months since the 2020 presidential election after an unprecedented surge in mail-in ballots that former President Donald Trump repeatedly and baselessly claimed led to election fraud. “During the current legislative session, elected officials in 43 states have already introduced more than 250 bills to make it harder for Americans to vote,” Biden said Sunday. Georgia, for example, passed a bill in its lower chamber last week to restrict absentee ballots and early voting on Sundays despite knowing such provisions are disproportionately utilized by mostly Democrat minority voters.
What To Watch For
The Supreme Court in a Tuesday hearing signaled it will vote in support of two election measures enacted in Arizona during the election–one that allowed officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct and another placing restrictions on the third parties that can assist in delivering ballots to polling places. Responding to a question from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, GOP Lawyer Michael Carvin said he was concerned the provisions would put Republicans at a “competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.”