In the midst of a recent trend by Republican-run state governments to pass legislation making voting more difficult for their citizens after the 2020 elections proved that GOP electoral success was inversely proportional to the number of people allowed to vote, President Biden is making every effort to counter that reactionary movement by signing an executive order directing the federal government to take steps to make voting easier.
The multipart executive order was issued today in a symbolic commemoration of the 56th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama that was the impetus in passing the first big voting rights legislation of the 1960s.
While Biden’s order doesn’t have the scope or reach of the voting rights bill, H.R. 1, that was passed in the House of Representatives last week and faces an uncertain future in the Senate where it will need 60 votes to pass, it does empower multiple federal agencies overseen by the executive branch to help in voter registration and voter turn out efforts.
President Biden explained the reasons for his actions in a speech at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast this morning.
“The legacy of the march in Selma is that while nothing can stop a free people from exercising their most sacred power as citizens, there are those who will do everything they can to take that power away,” an advance release of the president’s prepared remarks states.
“Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have it counted,” Biden says. “If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let more people vote,” he explains.
According to The New York Times, the scope of Biden’s new executive order is fairly limited.
“It calls upon officials at federal agencies to study and potentially expand access to voter registration materials, especially for those with disabilities, incarcerated people and other historically underserved groups,” the newspaper reports.
“It also orders a modernization of the federally run Vote.gov website to ensure that it provides the most up-to-date information about voting and elections.”
“But the order does not directly address efforts by many Republican-led state legislatures to restrict voting, including measures that would roll back the mail voting that was established in many states during the pandemic,” The Times concludes.
The fact that Biden’s power to affect state-level voting regulations by executive order is limited makes the passage of H.R. 1 in the Senate all the more crucial to ensure that the minority party doesn’t have the ability to prevent access to the polls for voting blocks that have historically favored Democrats.
With the H.R. 1 bill including provisions that would weaken restrictive state voter identification laws, require automatic voter registration, expand mail-in voting and early voting, make it more difficult to eliminate voters from the rolls, and restore voting rights to former felons, it would counteract many of the state-level efforts by GOP extremists who see universal suffrage as a threat to their entrenched power.
With the prospect of needing to convince at least 10 Republican senators to vote for legislation that undermines their own party’s chance of future victories in order to pass the bill, Biden’s executive order may be more symbolic and aspirational than effective in fighting GOP voter restrictions, but as a sign of positive intent, it’s a great first step.
Those of you who live in states that are represented by a Republican senator would do well to call their offices and pressure them to support the passage of the new voting rights bill as the only way to achieve true democracy in this nation.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.