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Biden Marks Selma Anniversary with Executive Order to Expand Voting Access

President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

President Biden on Sunday signed an executive order aimed at increasing voter access as congressional Democrats push for the passage of H.R. 1, a sweeping voting-rights package.  

Biden’s order was announced during a recorded address on the 56th commemoration of “Bloody Sunday,” when state troopers in Selma, Alabama beat some 600 civil rights activists in 1965 as they tried to march for voting rights. 

“Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have it counted,” Biden said during a speech to Sunday’s Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast before signing the order. “If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.”

The order directs federal agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information and to devise plans to give federal employees time off to vote. It also orders federal agencies to provide voting access and education to citizens in federal custody and to examine barriers to citizens with disabilities voting and improve ballot tracking for overseas voters, including active-duty military. Finally, it will modernize the government’s Vote.gov website.

After the Democrat-controlled House passed the For the People Act of 2021, or H.R. 1, this week, Biden called the legislation “urgently needed” to protect the right to vote and to “strengthen” democracy. He pledged to work with Congress to “refine and advance” the legislation and said he would sign it if it passes the Senate.

However, the bill passed the House Wednesday with a vote of 220 to 210, with zero Republicans joining Democrats in approving the bill. The measure is likely to be a tough sell in the evenly divided Senate: conservative groups have launched a $5 million campaign in an attempt to coax moderate Senate Democrats to oppose rule changes needed to pass the bill.

Republicans have been critical of the bill, saying it serves as unwanted federal interference into states’ authority to run their own elections, though Democrats have argued that the measure is needed to help combat voter suppression.

The bill includes provisions to restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, remove obstacles to voting and bring transparency to the opaque campaign finance system that allows rich donors to anonymously fund political causes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.,) last week blasted the legislation as “exactly the wrong response” to the “distressing lack of faith in our elections.” He accused Democrats of using their “temporary power” to “try to ensure they’ll never have to relinquish it.”

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