As Republicans advance laws intended to suppress voting rights, they are also impeding access to the ballot – undermining, sabotaging and reducing ballot boxes, shutting polling places on college campuses, moving polling places where they are hard to reach without a car, making it unlawful to provide food or water to people standing on line for hours on end, creating Election Police to intimidate voters, giving people false information about their ability to register, then prosecuting them for voter fraud, while ignoring actual voter fraud by those who vote “the right way.” The Biden Administration has worked to counter these efforts. On the 58th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the White House issued this fact sheet on its whole-of-government efforts to promote access to voting:–Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Today, President Biden is traveling to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 58th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In 1965, John Lewis and other civil rights leaders led peaceful protesters demanding voting rights in a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they were brutally beaten by state troopers. The Nation’s reaction to Bloody Sunday helped produce the long overdue landmark Voting Rights Act, which put in place key protections against racial discrimination in voting and sought to provide equal access to the ballot for every American.
Since their first days in office, President Biden and Vice President Harris have prioritized strengthening our democracy and protecting the sacred right to vote in free, fair, and secure elections. Unconscionably, state legislatures across the country have enacted and continue to introduce laws that make it harder to vote and undermine the will of the people. Congress must restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act and take additional steps to ensure access to the ballot box by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act—it’s the only way we can fully secure the right to vote in every state.
In December 2022, President Biden signed into law the Electoral Count Reform Act, which establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for President and Vice President, to preserve the will of the people and to protect against the type of attempts to overturn our elections that led to the January 6 insurrection. Congress must apply the same courage and conviction that it took to secure these reforms to passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. President Biden supports eliminating the filibuster to prevent a minority of Senators from blocking action on voting rights—when it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate.
In the meantime, the Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to using every tool at its disposal to protect the right to vote. On March 7, 2021, the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Biden signed an executive order directing an all-of-government effort to promote access to voting. As previously outlined, agencies continue leveraging their resources to provide Americans with access to voter registration services and nonpartisan information about elections:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The ability to vote is both a right and a responsibility that comes with U.S. citizenship. The Department of Homeland Security’s USCIS strives to ensure all newly naturalized citizens understand this privilege and have the opportunity to register to vote following their naturalization ceremony. To improve and strengthen these efforts, USCIS will issue updated policy guidance to its 88 field offices to standardize and lift up best practices for voter registration services, including providing a clear roadmap for how to successfully partner with state and local election administration officials and nonpartisan organizations to provide voter registration applications to all new Americans. In Fiscal Year 2022, USCIS administered the Oath of Allegiance for 967,400 new Americans, across more than 20,000 naturalization ceremonies. Voter registration information and additional resources for newly naturalized Americans are available on the USCIS website for New U.S. Citizens.
Department of Education. By the end of March, the Department of Education will use StudentAid.gov to help connect borrowers to voter registration services by linking to vote.gov. StudentAid.gov is the Department’s primary customer website about postsecondary education. With more than 355 million visits in 2022, StudentAid.gov provides critical information and tools for students, families, and borrowers as they prepare and plan for college, apply for and receive federal student aid, and repay student loans. Building off guidance issued in April 2022, the Department continues to encourage colleges and career schools to make good-faith efforts to register students to vote.
Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will enhance efforts to promote access to voting by encouraging all USDA agency field offices to make nonpartisan information about voter registration available in customer service locations, which exist across the country in thousands of rural, suburban, and urban communities.
Indian Health Service. The Indian Health Service (IHS) will promote access to voting in Indian Country by piloting high-quality voter registration services to patients across five IHS facilities by the end 2023.
General Services Administration. Vote.gov is now accessible in twelve languages, with more translations coming online soon, and GSA will continue working to enhance the website to make it easier for Americans to register to vote and obtain nonpartisan information about voting.
Department of Treasury. In addition to supporting the third-party Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) partners in offering voter registration services to individuals who seek tax assistance, Treasury is now providing information about voter registration in the instructions for IRS Form 1040 and in direct mail pieces delivered to approximately 900,000 Americans who receive Social Security Benefits, Railroad Pension benefits, and federal retirement benefits.
Department of the Interior. In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act, which authorized states to request that federal agencies provide voter registration services. For nearly 30 years, no federal agency was designated as a voter registration agency. Last year, the Department of the Interior became the first agency to be designated as voter registration agency when two Bureau of Indian Education-operated post-secondary institutions—Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in New Mexico—formed partnerships with state election authorities to provide the opportunity to register to vote. Additionally, because federal public lands are one of the most common touch points between the federal government and the American people, the Department will explore options to expand access to voter registration on public lands across the country.
Department of Justice. Promoting voting access and education is an important part of preparing individuals who are exiting the criminal justice system for a successful return to society, because encouraging full citizenship helps make them stakeholders in the communities to which they return. The Department has developed a program to educate individuals about their voting rights, specific to each state and territory. The Department is also promoting access to voting for those who remain eligible to vote while in federal custody, including by putting in place procedures to facilitate voter registration and voting.
Department of Defense. The Federal Voting Assistance Program, which works to ensure Service members and overseas citizens have access to voting, will make the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) for voter registration or ballot request and the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) available in seven languages. Additionally, in February 2023, the Department began the Effective Absentee Systems for Elections (EASE) grant program to provide state and local election offices with funding to increase the percentage of ballots successfully returned by Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters, reduce the failure rates for UOCAVA voters, and establish and maintain a pipeline of ideas, techniques, and best practices of election officials and the services they provide for UOCAVA voters.
Department of State.Travel.state.gov now reflects up-to-date information on absentee voting and registration for U.S. citizens abroad. This coming year, the Department will promote Vote.gov in the waiting rooms of its 26 public passport agencies.
President Joe Biden delivered a forceful speech delivered in Atlanta, Georgia, the “cradle of civil rights,” demanding the Senate pass voting rights protections, at one point slamming his hand down on the podium. The “institutionalist” who spent decades in the Senate, he came out as supporting overturning the filibuster – a relic of segregation and Jim Crow – which has been weaponized by Republicans, giving tyrannical control of the minority over the majority.
“To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules..to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights,” he declared.
Here is a highlighted transcript of his remarks:
In our lives and the lives of our nation — the life of our nation, there are moments so stark that they divide all that came before from everything that followed. They stop time. They rip away the trivial from the essential. And they force us to confront hard truths about ourselves, about our institutions, and about our democracy.
In the words of Scripture, they remind us to “hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate.”
Last week, [Vice] President Harris and I stood in the United States Capitol to observe one of those “before and after” moments in American history: January 6th insurrection on the citadel of our democracy.
Today, we come to Atlanta — the cradle of civil rights — to make clear what must come after that dreadful day when a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy.
We stand on the grounds that connect Clark Atlanta — Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and near Spellman College — the home of generations of advocates, activists, educators and preachers; young people, just like the students here, who have done so much to build a better America. (Applause.)
We visited the sacred Ebenezer Baptist Church and paused to prayed at the crypt of Dr. and Mrs. King, and spent time with their family. And here in the district — as was pointed out — represented and reflected the life of beloved friend, John Lewis.
In their lifetimes, time stopped when a bomb blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and murdered four little girls.
[Time] stopped when John and many others seeking justice were beaten and bloodied while crossing the bridge at Selma named after the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
They stopped — time stopped, and they forced the country to confront the hard truths and to act — to act to keep the promise of America alive: the promise that holds that we’re all created equal but, more importantly, deserve to be treated equally. And from those moments of darkness and despair came light and hope.
Democrats, Republicans, and independents worked to pass the historic Civil Rights Act and the voting rights legislation. And each successive generation continued that ongoing work.
But then the violent mob of January 6th, 2021, empowered and encouraged by a defeated former president, sought to win through violence what he had lost at the ballot box, to impose the will of the mob, to overturn a free and fair election, and, for the first time — the first time in American history, they — to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
They failed.They failed. (Applause.) But democracy’s victory was not certain, nor is democracy’s future.
That’s why we’re here today to stand against the forces in America that value power over principle, forces that attempted a coup — a coup against the legally expressed will of the American people — by sowing doubt, inventing charges of fraud, and seeking to steal the 2020 election from the people.
They want chaos to reign. We want the people to rule. (Applause.)
But let me be clear: This is not about me or Vice President Harris or our party; it’s about all of us. It’s about the people. It’s about America.
Hear me plainly: The battle for the soul of America is not over. We must stand strong and stand together to make sure January 6th marks not the end of democracy but the beginning of a renaissance of our democracy. (Applause.)
You know, for the right to vote and to have that vote counted is democracy’s threshold liberty. Without it, nothing is possible, but with it, anything is possible.
But while the denial of fair and free elections is un-democratic, it is not unprecedented.
Black Americans were denied full citizenship and voting rights until 1965. Women were denied the right to vote until just 100 years ago. The United States Supreme Court, in recent years, has weakened the Voting Rights Act. And now the defeated former president and his supporters use the Big Lie about the 2020 election to fuel torrent and torment and anti-voting laws — new laws designed to suppress your vote, to subvert our elections.
Here in Georgia, for years, you’ve done the hard work of democracy: registering voters, educating voters, getting voters to the polls. You’ve built a broad coalition of voters: Black, white, Latino, Asian American, urban, suburban, rural, working class, and middle class.
And it’s worked: You’ve changed the state by bringing more people, legally, to the polls. (Applause.) That’s how you won the historic elections of Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff. (Applause.)
You did it — you did it the right way, the democratic way.
And what’s been the reaction of Republicans in Georgia? Choose the wrong way, the undemocratic way. To them, too many people voting in a democracy is a problem. So they’re putting up obstacles.
For example, voting by mail is a safe and convenient way to get more people to vote, so they’re making it harder for you to vote by mail.
The same way, I might add, in the 2020 Election, President Trump voted from behind the desk in the White House — in Florida.
Dropping your ballots off to secure drop boxes — it’s safe, it’s convenient, and you get more people to vote. So they’re limiting the number of drop boxes and the hours you can use them.
Taking away the options has a predictable effect: longer lines at the polls, lines that can last for hours. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. People get tired and they get hungry.
When the Bible teaches us to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, the new Georgia law actually makes it illegal — think of this — I mean, it’s 2020, and now ’22, going into that election — it makes it illegal to bring your neighbors, your fellow voters food or water while they wait in line to vote. What in the hell — heck are we talking about? (Laughter and applause.)
I mean, think about it. (Applause.) That’s not America. That’s what it looks like when they suppress the right to vote.
And here’s how they plan to subvert the election: The Georgia Republican Party, the state legislature has now given itself the power to make it easier for partisan actors — their cronies — to remove local election officials.
Think about that. What happened in the last election? The former president and allies pursued, threatened, and intimidated state and local election officials.
Election workers — ordinary citizens — were subject to death threats, menacing phone calls, people stalking them in their homes.
Remember what the defeated former president said to the highest-ranking election official — a Republican — in this state? He said, quote, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.”
Pray God. (Laughter.) He didn’t say that part. (Laughter.)
He didn’t say, “Count the votes.” He said, “find votes” that he needed to win.
He failed because of the courageous officials — Democrats, Republicans — who did their duty and upheld the law. (Applause.)
But with this new law in Georgia, his loyal- — his loyalists will be placed in charge of state elections. (Laughs.) What is that going to mean? Well, the chances for chaos and subversion are even greater as partisans seek the result they want — no matter what the voters have said, no matter what the count. The votes of nearly 5 million Georgians will be up for grabs if that law holds.
It’s not just here in Georgia. Last year alone, 19 states not proposed but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights. There were nearly 400 additional bills Republican members of state legislatures tried to pass. And now, Republican legislators in several states have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year.
Their endgame? To turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion — something states can respect or ignore.
Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion. It’s no longer about who gets to vote; it’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.
It’s not hyperbole; this is a fact.
Look, this matters to all of us. The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them. Simple as that. The facts won’t matter; your vote won’t matter. They’ll just decide what they want and then do it.
That’s the kind of power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies.
We must be vigilant.
And the world is watching. I know the majority of the world leaders — the good and the bad ones, adversaries and allies alike. They’re watching American democracy and seeing whether we can meet this moment. And that’s not hyperbole.
When I showed up at the G7 with seven other world leaders — there were a total of nine present — Vice President Harris and I have spent our careers doing this work — I said, “America is back.” And the response was, “For how long?” “For how long?”
As someone who’s worked in foreign policy my whole life, I never thought I would ever hear our allies say something like that.
Over the past year, we’ve directed federal agencies to promote access to voting, led by the Vice President. We’ve appointed top civil rights advocates to help the U.S. Department of Justice, which has doubled its voting rights enforcement staff.
And today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge: Pass the Freedom to Vote Act. (Applause.) Pass it now — (applause) — which would prevent voter suppression so that here in Georgia there’s full access to voting by mail, there are enough drop boxes during enough hours so that you can bring food and water as well to people waiting in line.
The Freedom to Vote Act takes on election subversion to protect nonpartisan electors [election] officials, who are doing their job, from intimidation and interference.
It would get dark money out of politics, create fairer district maps and ending partisan gerrymandering. (Applause.)
Look, it’s also time to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. (Applause.)
I’ve been having these quiet conversations with the members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet! (Applause.)
Folks, it’ll restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act of ’65 — the one President Johnson signed after John Lewis was beaten, nearly killed on Bloody Sunday, only to have the Supreme Court weaken it multiple times over the past decade.
Restoring the Voting Rights Act would mean the Justice Department can stop discriminatory laws before they go into effect — before they go into effect. (Applause.) The Vice President and I have supported voting rights bills since day one of this administration. But each and every time, Senate Republicans have blocked the way. Republicans oppose even debating the issue. You hear me?
I’ve been around the Senate a long time. I was Vice President for eight years. I’ve never seen a circumstance where not one single Republican has a voice that’s ready to speak for justice now.
When I was a senator, including when I headed up the Judiciary Committee, I helped reauthorize the Voting [Rights] Act three times. We held hearings. We debated. We voted. I was able to extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years.
In 2006, the Voting Rights Act passed 390 to 33 in the House of Representatives and 98 to 0 in the Senate with votes from 16 current sitting Republicans in this United States Senate. Sixteen of them voted to extend it.
The last year I was chairman, as some of my friends sitting down here will tell you, Strom Thurmond voted to extend the Voting Rights Act. Strom Thurmond.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Wow.
THE PRESIDENT: You can say that again: “Wow.” You have no idea how damn ha- — how darn hard I worked on that one. (Laughter and applause.)
But, folks, then it was signed into law, the last time, by President George W. Bush.
You know, when we got voting rights extended in the 1980s, as I’ve said, even Thurmond supported it. Think about that. The man who led one of the longest filibusters in history in the United States Senate in 1957 against the Voting Rights Act [Civil Rights Act]. The man who led and sided with the old Southern Bulls in the United States Senate to perpetuate segregation in this nation. Even Strom Thurmond came to support voting rights.
But Republicans today can’t and won’t. Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote. Not one. Not one.
We have 50-50 in the United States Senate. That means we have 51 presidents. (Laughter.) You all think I’m kidding. (Laughter.)
I’ve been pretty good at working with senators my whole career. But, man, when you got 51 presidents, it gets harder. Any one can change the outcome.
Sadly, the United States Senate — designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body — has been rendered a shell of its former self. It gives me no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate.
But as an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote.
Let the majority prevail. (Applause.) And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this. (Applause.)
You know, last year, if I’m not mistaken, the filibuster was used 154 times. The filibuster has been used to generate compromise in the past and promote some bipartisanship. But it’s also been used to obstruct — including and especially obstruct civil rights and voting rights.
And when it was used, senators traditionally used to have to stand and speak at their desks for however long it took, and sometimes it took hours. And when they sat down, if no one immediately stood up, anyone could call for a vote or the debate ended.
But that doesn’t happen today. Senators no longer even have to speak one word. The filibuster is not used by Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart.
The filibuster has been weaponized and abused.
While the state legislatures’ assault on voting rights is simple — all you need in your House and Senate is a pure majority — in the United States Senate, it takes a supermajority: 60 votes, even to get a vote — instead of 50 — to protect the right to vote.
State legislatures can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities. If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority. (Applause.)
Today I’m making it clear: To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed — (applause) — to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights. (Applause.)
When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate.
I make this announcement with careful deliberation, recognizing the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow.
And I make it with an appeal to my Republican colleagues, to those Republicans who believe in the rule of law: Restore the bipartisan tradition of voting rights.
The people who restored it, who abided by it in the past were Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush. They all supported the Voting Rights Act.
Don’t let the Republican Party morph into something else. Restore the institution of the Senate the way it was designed to be.
Senate rules were just changed to raise the debt ceiling so we wouldn’t renege on our debt for the first time in our history and prevent an economic crisis. That was done by a simple majority.
As Senator Warnock said a few weeks ago in a powerful speech: If we change the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, we should be able to change the rules to protect the heart and soul of our democracy. (Applause.) He was right.
In the days that followed John Lewis’s death, there was an outpouring of praise and support across the political spectrum.
But as we stand here today, it isn’t enough just to praise his memory. We must translate eulogy into action. We need to follow John Lewis’s footsteps. We need to support the bill in his name.
Just a few days ago, we talked about — up in the Congress and in the White House — the event coming up shortly to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. And Americans of all stripes will praise him for the content of his character.
But as Dr. King’s family said before, it’s not enough to praise their father. They even said: On this holiday, don’t celebrate his birthday unless you’re willing to support what he lived for and what he died for. (Applause.)
The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation’s history.
We will choose — the issue is: Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadows, justice over injustice?
I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend the right to vote, our democracy against all enemies — foreign and, yes, domestic. (Applause.)
And the question is: Where will the institution of the United States Senate stand? Every senator — Democrat, Republican, and independent — will have to declare where they stand, not just for the moment, but for the ages.
Will you stand against voter suppression? Yes or no? That’s the question they’ll answer. Will you stand against election subversion? Yes or no? Will you stand for democracy? Yes or no?
And here’s one thing every senator and every American should remember: History has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights. And it will be even less kind for those who side with election subversion.
So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?
At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?
This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy. (Applause.)
And if you do that, you will not be alone. That’s because the struggle to protect voting rights has never been borne by one group alone.
We saw Freedom Riders of every race. Leaders of every faith marching arm in arm. And, yes, Democrats and Republicans in Congress of the United States and in the presidency.
I did not live the struggle of Douglass, Tubman, King, Lewis, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, and countless others — known and unknown.
I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds. But I walked other grounds. Because I’m so damn old, I was there as well. (Laughter.)
You think I’m kidding, man. (Laughter.) It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested. Anyway — (laughter).
But their struggles here — they were the ones that opened my eyes as a high school student in the late — in the late ’50s and early ’60s. They got me more engaged in the work of my life.
And what we’re talking about today is rooted in the very idea of America — the idea that Annell Ponder, who graduated from Clark Atlanta, captured in a single word. She was a teacher and librarian who was also an unyielding champion of voting rights.
In 1963 — when I was just starting college at university — after registering voters in Mississippi, she was pulled off a bus, arrested, and jailed, where she was brutally beaten.
In her cell, next to her, was Fannie Lou Hamer, who described the beating this way, and I quote: “I could hear the sounds of [the] licks and [the] horrible screams…They beat her, I don’t know [for] how long. And after a while, she began to pray, and asked God to have mercy on those people.”
Annell Ponder’s friends visited her the next day. Her face was badly swollen. She could hardly talk.
But she managed to whisper one word: “Freedom.” “Freedom” — the only word she whispered.
After nearly 250 years since our founding, that singular idea still echoes. But it’s up to all of us to make sure it never fades, especially the students here — your generation that just started voting — as there are those who are trying to take away that vi- — vote you just started to be able to exercise.
But the giants we honor today were your age when they made clear who we must be as a nation. Not a joke. Think about it. In the early ’60s, they were sitting where you’re sitting. They were you. And like them, you give me much hope for the future.
Before and after in our lives — and in the life of the nation — democracy is who we are, who we must be — now and forever. So, let’s stand in this breach together. Let’s love good, establish justice in the gate.
And remember, as I said, there is one — this is one of those defining moments in American history: Each of those who vote will be remembered by class after class, in the ’50s and ’60s — the 2050s and ’60s. Each one of the members of the Senate is going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote and where they stood after the vote.
There’s no escape. So, let’s get back to work.
As my grandfather Finnegan used to say every time I walked out the door in Scranton, he’d say, “Joey, keep the faith.” Then he’d say, “No, Joey, spread it.”
Let’s spread the faith and get this done. (Applause.)
May God bless you all. And may God protect the sacred right to vote. (Applause.) Thank you. I mean it. Let’s go get this done. Thank you.
On a day marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, an event that so outraged Americans it led ultimately to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, President Joe Biden addressed the unity breakfast named after Dr. and Mrs. King and announced that he had signed an Executive Order “to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting.”
President Biden declared, “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.” Here is the text of his remarks and the details of his Executive Order:
I know this is the first commemoration of Bloody Sunday without Reverend C.T. Vivian, Reverend Joseph Lowery, and Congressman John Lewis. Preachers of the social gospel. Architects of the ‘Beloved Community,’ they built not only with words but with action. And reminders that in our lifetime, for Black Americans, the fundamental right to vote has been denied by white supremacy hiding both behind white hoods and in plain sight in state houses and courtrooms.
Yet those torches and burning crosses, the batons, tear gas, fire hoses, attack dogs, and unfair laws and trials could not stop progress. The blood of John Lewis and hundreds of other brave and righteous souls that was spilled in Selma, on this Sunday in 1965 sanctified a noble struggle.
And when the country saw those images that night, America was forced to confront the denial of democracy — the fierce urgency of justice.
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act a few months later, and President Johnson signed it into law.
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.
The Voting Rights Act began to dismantle barriers to voting and to make our elections more fair, free, and representative.
I was always proud to lead the efforts to reauthorize it over the years as a U.S. Senator in the Judiciary Committee. But at the same time, Republicans at every level have chipped away at it.
Then in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, holding that times have changed and blatant voter discrimination was rare, contrary to the assault that was taking place on the ground. The late Justice Ginsburg wrote that the decision was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm.” Today, we have a hail storm, not a rain storm.
And in 2020, our very democracy on the line, even in the midst of a pandemic, more Americans voted than ever before. Multiple recounts in states and decisions in more than 60 courts – from judges appointed by my predecessor, including at the Supreme Court – upheld the integrity of this historic election.
Yet instead of celebrating this powerful demonstration of voting – we have seen an unprecedented insurrection in our Capitol and a brutal attack on our democracy on January 6th. A never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people.
And to think that it’s been followed by an all-out assault on the right to vote in state legislatures all across the country happening right now. 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. We cannot let them succeed.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021. This is 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.
I also urge Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act, named in John Lewis’ honor.
Today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I am signing an executive order to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting. 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.
I’ll close with this – a few days before he passed, Jill and I spoke with John, Congressman Lewis.
But instead of answering our concerns about him, “how are you doing, John,” he asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal and to unite this nation around what it means to be an American.
That’s the God’s truth. John wouldn’t talk about his pending death or his concerns. He said we just got to get this done.
That we are all created equal. That we all deserve to be treated equally.
On this day of reflection, please, let’s stay focused on the work ahead.
Let’s remember all those who came before us as a bridge to our history so we do not forget its pain, and as a bridge to our future so we never lose our hope.
May God bless their memory. May God bless you all.
FACT SHEET: President Biden to Sign Executive Order to Promote Voting Access
On this day in 1965, state troopers beat and tear-gassed hundreds of peaceful protestors crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The protestors were seeking justice and to ensure their right to vote would not be denied. At the head of the march were former Congressman John Lewis and Rev. Hosea Williams. As the troopers advanced with clubs raised, the group knelt in prayer. The images of protestors, bloody and bruised, flashing on television screens across the nation spurred Congress to pass, and President Johnson to sign into law, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Congressman Lewis’ fight to protect and expand the vote did not end that day in Selma. He carried the mission to our nation’s Capital and remained a vigilant protector of our right to vote, knowing all too well the burdens borne to guarantee it.
Today, to mark the 56th anniversary of Selma with actions and not just words, President Biden will sign an Executive Order to promote voting access and allow all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy. This Executive Order will leverage the resources of the federal government to increase access to voter registration services and information about voting.
As the President has said, democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend, strengthen, and renew it. Free and fair elections that reflect the will of the American people must be protected and defended. Too many Americans face significant obstacles to exercising their fundamental right to vote. For generations, Black voters and other voters of color have faced discriminatory policies that suppress their vote. Voters of color are more likely to face long lines at the polls and are disproportionately burdened by voter identification laws and limited opportunities to vote by mail. Native Americans likewise face limited opportunities to vote by mail and frequently lack sufficient polling places and voter registration opportunities near their homes. Limited access to language assistance is an obstacle for many voters. People with disabilities face longstanding barriers in exercising their right to vote, especially when it comes to legally required accommodations to vote privately and independently. Members of our military serving overseas, as well as other American citizens living abroad, also face unnecessary challenges to exercising their right to vote.
Today’s Executive Order is an initial step in this Administration’s efforts to protect the right to vote and ensure all eligible citizens can freely participate in the electoral process. The President is committed to working with Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which includes bold reforms to make it more equitable and accessible for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
Today’s Executive Order will:
Direct federal agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information. The executive order will direct the head of each federal agency to submit to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy a strategic plan outlining ways their agency can promote voter registration and participation within 200 days. These strategic plans could include actions such as:
Leveraging agencies’ existing websites and social media to provide information about how to register to vote
Distributing voter registration and vote-by-mail ballot applications in the course of regular services
Considering whether any identity documents issued by the agency can be issued in a form that satisfies state voter identification laws
And, the Federal Chief Information Officer of the United States will coordinate across federal agencies to improve or modernize federal websites and digital services that provide election and voting information to the American people, including ensuring that federal websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities and people with limited English proficiency.
Direct federal agencies to assist states under the National Voter Registration Act. Today’s Executive Order reaffirms the intent of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 to have federal agencies assist with voter registration efforts. Since the NVRA was enacted, state government agencies, like a department of motor vehicles, have helped register hundreds of millions of voters. Unlike state agencies, however, federal agencies can only become voter registration agencies under the NVRA at a state’s request. Federal agencies providing direct services to underserved communities represent a unique opportunity to provide access to voter registration services. Under today’s action, the head of each federal agency will evaluate where and how the federal agency provides services that directly engage with the public, and to the greatest extent possible, formally notify states in which it provides services that it would agree to designation as a voter registration agency. If requested by a state to be designated as a voter registration agency, the federal agency shall to the greatest extent possible agree to such designation.
Improve and modernize Vote.gov. The Executive Order will direct the General Services Administration (GSA) to submit to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy a strategic plan outlining steps to modernize and improve the user experience of the federal government’s premier source of voting-related information, Vote.gov, including the accessibility of the website within 200 days. The order requires GSA to seek the input of affected stakeholders, including election administrators, civil rights and disability rights activists, Tribal Nations, and nonprofit groups that study best practices for using technology to promote civic engagement.
Increase federal employees’ access to voting. The Executive Order will direct the Director of the Office of Personnel Management to work with the head of federal agencies to provide recommendations to the President regarding leave for federal employees to vote or to volunteer as nonpartisan poll workers, ensuring that the federal government serves as a model to other employers.
Analyze barriers to voting for people with disabilities. The Executive Order will direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce to evaluate and publish recommendations on the steps needed to ensure that the online Federal Voter Registration Form is accessible to people with disabilities within 200 days. The order directs NIST—in consultation with the Department of Justice, the Election Assistance Commission, and other agencies—to analyze barriers to private and independent voting for people with disabilities, including access to voter registration, voting technology, voting by mail, polling locations, and poll worker training.
Increase voting access for active duty military and other overseas voters. The executive order will direct the Secretary of Defense within 200 days to establish procedures to annually offer each member of the Armed Forces on active duty the opportunity to register to vote in federal elections, update voter registration, or request an absentee ballot. Additionally, the Secretary of Defense—in coordination with the Department of State, the Military Postal Service Agency and United States Postal Service—is required to submit a strategic plan for an end-to-end ballot tracking system for overseas ballots. And, the head of each federal agency with overseas employees is directed to designate a point of contact to coordinate with the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) and promote voter registration and voting services available to these employees.
Provide voting access and education to citizens in federal custody. The order will direct the Attorney General to establish procedures to provide educational materials related to voter registration and voting, and to the extent practicable, to facilitate voter registration, for all eligible individuals in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It also directs the Attorney General to coordinate with the Probation and Pretrial Services Office to develop similar procedures for eligible individuals under its supervision. The Executive Order also directs the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure the U.S. Marshals Service includes language in jail contracts to provide eligible individuals educational materials related to voter registration and voting, and to facilitate voting by mail, to the extent practicable and appropriate. And, it directs the Attorney General to take steps to support formerly incarcerated individuals in obtaining a means of identification that satisfies state voter identification laws.
Establish a Native American voting rights steering group. The order will establish an interagency steering group on Native American voting rights to be coordinated by the Domestic Policy Council. The steering group will include, at a minimum, the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or their designees. The steering group will study best practices, in consultation with Tribal Nations, for protecting voting rights of Native Americans and will produce a report within one year of the date of the order outlining recommendations for increasing voter outreach, education, registration, and turnout in Native American communities.