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Biden to sign order expanding voting rights on Bloody Sunday anniversary

Sam Levine in New York
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Joe Biden will sign an executive order expanding voting rights on Sunday, the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when police brutally attacked a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama.

Republicans have advanced more than 250 measures in state legislatures which aim to restrict voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Related: Biden's no LBJ but he must protect voting rights. What else is the presidency for? | Robert Reich

Biden referenced those measures in remarks delivered remotely to a unity breakfast in Selma on Sunday, saying: “We cannot let them succeed.”

“If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide,” he said. “Let more people vote.”

House Democrats last week passed HR1, a bill that contains some of the most sweeping measures to expand voting rights since the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Amid the increasing efforts to restrict voting rights, there are increasing calls for Democrats to get around the 60-vote filibuster in the US Senate in order to pass the measure.

The US constitution gives the president little power over voting rights. The executive order Biden will sign will therefore implement relatively modest but potentially consequential changes.

The most significant will instruct federal agencies to offer voter registration opportunities if a state requests so, under a 1993 federal law.

Offering voter registration opportunities at agencies could boost registration rates among populations where it currently lags. Voter registration at the Indian Health Service, for example, could affect more than 1.9 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives, according to an estimate from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Offering registration at the Veterans Association could reach almost 20 million voters and doing the same at immigration offices could affect more than 760,000 each year.

Another provision in the order requires the Department of Justice to provide people in federal custody – including those on probation – with voter registration information and “to the extent practicable and appropriate” to facilitate voting by mail.

Related: On the anniversary of Selma we are sadly reminded: voting rights are still imperiled | Elliott Smith

States have widely different policies on when people with a felony conviction can vote and navigating such rules can be extremely difficult for people once they are released from prison.

Biden’s order also directs the attorney general to establish procedures to help formerly incarcerated people get identification they can use to vote.

The order also instructs the federal government to study how to improve voting access for people with disabilities and how each federal agency can improve voter registration opportunities.

It directs officials to come up with a plan to improve vote.gov, the federal website for voting information. Biden will also establish a Native American voting rights steering group and instruct the Office of Personnel Management and Department of Defense to study how to improve voting access for federal employees and the military as well as Americans overseas.