Updates on Voting Procedures
Joe Biden passed an executive order last week that will dramatically expand voter access across the nation. He and his administration call it their first step to protecting voter rights, with one official describing the order as “the authority the president has to leverage federal resources to help people register to vote and provide information.” The order was signed on March 7, which happens to be the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the anniversary of a day when several hundred people marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to seek voting rights. This order comes shortly after the House announced the signing of the For the People Act, which also outlines major voting reform.
Biden’s order is in response to over 250 bills introduced nationwide that seek to restrict voter access after the country saw record voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election. Lawmakers across the United States cite this as evidence of election fraud and feel actions must be taken to mitigate that in the future, hence the introduction of such legislation.
The president supports expanded voter access and his current order makes several demands that would increase voter awareness, including updating and modernizing vote.gov the voter registration website. Beyond that, the leaders of every federal agency were given just over 6 months to formulate plans to “promote voter registration and participation”, as well as offering expanded and easier access for military personnel and the disabled to vote. Notably, Biden officials openly admit that subjects like this typically do not fall under presidential jurisdiction, but rather that of Congress.
That is where the For the People Act comes into play. Also known as H.R. 1, the bill proposed by John Sarbanes of Maryland offers sweeping overhauls of the current voting systems. The nearly 800-page piece of legislation, reviews and offers solutions to an array of topics, including but not limited to the modernization of voting, expanded access to voting, ensuring accuracy, and preventing voter intimidation. While this bill passed the House without issue, the Senate is still controlled by Republicans via a slight majority. To pass, it would need 60 votes; only 48 Democrats and two Independents are represented in the Senate. Assuming they all vote in favor, 10 Republicans would have to go against the party line to push the bill through – a highly unlikely scenario given the aforementioned 250 bills intended to counter Sarbanes’ voting rights legislation.
Many of the initiatives offered in H.R. 1 were echoed in Biden’s executive order, which could have been issued as a fail safe. Biden knew that the For the People Act would likely not make it through the Senate and took matters into his own hands, again disproving his promises of a desire for working together in bipartisan politics.
Former Vice President Al Gore chimed in on voting rights recently, in an interview with CNN. Gore called the proposed Republican legislature a “naked effort to try and suppress black, brown, and indigenous votes” as well as “votes from people who they think will not go for the far right.” He then pitched the idea that everyone be automatically registered to vote. After he emphasized that people of all backgrounds contributing to the nation are what make this nation as great as it is, he implored “we need to expand access to voting. Everybody who is an American citizen ought to be automatically registered to vote...we ought to invite everyone into the voting booths and invite everyone into helping this nation.” An interesting stance for Gore, who of course was involved in what is now the second most famous recount effort in presidential history.