As federal electoral reform legislation languishes in Congress, the executive branch is taking small but important steps to promote access to the ballot box.
In March, President Biden issued an executive order asking federal agencies to assess how they can, within the framework of the law, encourage voter registration and participation. The deadline for agencies to submit their proposals was September 23, and this week the White House announced the first set of plans.
Here’s how 14 federal departments and agencies plan to promote voter participation and access:
- The Department of Agriculture will facilitate voting information for Americans living in rural areas who interact with their services.
- The Department of Defense will provide comprehensive election information in multiple languages, especially on mail-in voting, to military service members and civilians stationed away from home or overseas.
- The Department of Education will create a toolkit of civic education resources and strategies for primary and higher education institutions.
- The General Services Administration will update vote.gov, the federal voter registration portal, to make it more user-friendly for all Americans.
- The Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Living Administration will establish a new voting information center for older Americans and people with disabilities. The Indian Health Service will help patients register to vote. And Biden’s budget includes a 25% increase in grants for services that will help people with disabilities fully participate in the electoral process.
- The Department of Homeland Security will encourage state and local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations, to register the hundreds of thousands of people who become naturalized citizens each year and provide these new citizens with voting information. . DHA will also provide voting information and resources to people affected by natural disasters or other emergencies.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development will ask 3,000 public housing authorities who manage 1.2 million units to provide residents with voter registration information. The department will also work to improve access to voting for homeless people.
- The Museum and Library Services Institute will create and promote a civic engagement toolkit for libraries, museums, and heritage and cultural institutions to use.
- The Home Office will share voter registration information with schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education and tribal colleges and universities, serving about 30,000 students. The department will also promote tribal colleges and universities as voter registration agencies.
- The Department of Justice has created an online resource with state-specific registration and voting information, details on federal voting rights laws, and instructions on how to report possible violations of voting rights. The DOJ will also provide voting information to those in federal custody and facilitate voting for those who are still eligible.
- The Department of Labor will encourage states to make the more than 2,400 U.S. Employment Centers across all 50 states official voter registration agencies.
- The Department for Transport will provide guidance to over 1,150 rural transit systems and over 1,000 urban transit systems to consider providing free and discounted service on Election Day and distributing information on voting in stations. The department will also work to alleviate traffic and construction works that impact routes to ballot boxes, especially in underserved communities.
- The Treasury Department will include voting information in its direct deposit campaigns for Americans who receive Social Security, Veterans Affairs and other federal benefits.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs will provide voting information and assistance to medical center patients and residents of nursing homes and treatment centers.
Other federal agency initiatives will be rolled out in the coming months.
Before the agencies submit their plans to the White House, the Campaign Legal Center presented recommendations and best practices for promoting voter access.
Demos, a progressive think tank that advocates for democratic reform, celebrated the step forward, while pushing for more federal action.
“The actions outlined today are a great start and, with additional consultation, creative thinking, and commitments, have the potential to transform how and where people register to vote across America. This is especially important in the black, brown, and low-income communities, where we see significantly lower voter registration rates,” said Laura Williamson, senior policy analyst at Demos.
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In announcing these plans to promote voter turnout, Vice President Harris also stressed the importance for Congress to pass the Voting Freedom Act and the Advancing Voting Rights Act. John Lewis. However, with the filibuster still intact, both bills have little chance of success in the Senate.
“Our nation and our democracy are stronger when everyone participates, and weaker when someone is left out,” Harris said. “The President and I will help ensure these plans are fully implemented, and we will continue to work closely with these agencies to bring a whole-of-government approach to making voting accessible to all Americans.”
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