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'Let the people vote': Biden signs executive order to expand voting access

Biden issued the order after the House passed an election and ethics reform package and as GOP legislatures try to enact more restrictive voting measures.
Image: U.S. President Joe Biden makes remarks from the White House after his coronavirus pandemic relief legislation passed in the Senate, in Washington
President Joe Biden speaks at the White House after his coronavirus pandemic relief legislation passed in the Senate on Saturday.Erin Scott / Reuters

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Sunday calling on federal agencies to expand voting access as part of his administration's efforts "to promote and defend the right to vote for all Americans who are legally entitled to participate in elections."

"It is the responsibility of the federal government to expand access to, and education about, voter registration and election information, and to combat misinformation, in order to enable all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy," the order read.

Biden announced the order in virtual remarks played before the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast in Selma, Alabama, which commemorates the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where police beat Black demonstrators fighting for access to the ballot box along their march.

The House on Friday passed H.R. 1, a wide-ranging package of electoral and ethics reforms that Biden said he would sign into law should it make it through the Senate. Republican legislatures across the country are seeking to enact more restrictive voting measures after former President Donald Trump's defeat in November.

In his remarks Sunday, Biden said the Republican efforts were "an all-out assault on the right to vote."

"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," he said. "We cannot let them succeed."

Biden said H.R. 1 was "a landmark piece of legislation that is urgently needed to protect the right to vote, the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy."

"I hope the Senate does its work so that I can sign it into law," he said. "I also urge Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act, named in John Lewis' honor.

"Let the people vote," he added.

Biden's order calls on federal agencies to "consider ways to expand citizens' opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process," make it easier for federal employees to vote by recommending how to "expand the federal government's policy of granting employees time off to vote" and increase access to the ballot for voters with disabilities, Native Americans, active-duty military service members, overseas Americans and eligible federal prisoners.

H.R. 1 remains Democrats' best hope to secure increased voter protections, however. As an official said, the Biden administration does not have the jurisdiction to override restrictive voting measures enacted at the state level.