By Domestic Policy Advisor Susan E. Rice
Today is National Voter Registration Day, when eligible Americans are encouraged to register to vote, as well as confirm that they are registered at the right address. The right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted, are bedrock principles of our democracy. Since their first days in office, President Biden and Vice President Harris they have mobilized the entire federal government to strengthen our democracy and protect voters from suppression and subversion.
Unconscionably, state legislatures across the country have passed laws that make it harder to vote. Recent Supreme Court rulings have made it even harder to counter discrimination. To fight back against these deeply disturbing attacks on voting rights, President Biden and Vice President Harris have repeatedly urged the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — including calling for changing Senate rules to prevent a minority of Senators from blocking action to protect this fundamental right.
In the meantime, the Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to using every tool at its disposal to protect the sacred 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. Agencies are working to implement this order and have recently taken the following steps:
- The National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “motor-voter” law, requires entities like state motor vehicles offices to serve as one-stop voter registration hubs, ensuring that Americans are smoothly, conveniently, and accurately registered to vote in the right place when they are already filling out other government paperwork. President Biden’s Executive Order directed federal agencies, whenever practicable, to seek state designation as NVRA voter registration agencies. Now, for the first time ever, federal programs have been designated by states as voter registration agencies.
- Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is announcing a pending partnership with three states to provide voter registration assistance and information to veterans and their families and caregivers while they access services at VA healthcare facilities. The Department is poised to accept designation as an NVRA Voter Registration Agency requested by Kentucky and Michigan, and will serve as a Voter Registration Distribution Agency in Pennsylvania to provide voter registration materials and information to veterans, their families, and caregivers.
- In May, Kansas designated the Haskell Indian Nations University, operated by the Department of the Interior, as an NVRA voter registration agency—the first federal program ever designated this way by a state. In July, followed by a formal proclamation in September, New Mexico designated Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, also operated by Interior as a Bureau of Indian Education post-secondary institution, as an NVRA voter registration agency, making it the second federal program ever designated in this fashion. These designations will ensure that students at each institution of higher education are also able to register to vote — smoothly, accurately, and securely — at the same time as they enroll in school.
- Vote.gov is launching an array of new language offerings, expanding information about voter registration and increasing accessibility to that information. Vote.gov now provides information in 10 languages other than English: Bengali, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Hindi, Khmer, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and — as the first of several forthcoming Native American and Alaska Native languages — Yup’ik. You can find more information about plans for making vote.gov more robust and user-friendly here.
- The Department of Justice has produced an accessible, plain-language guide for 50 states and the District of Columbia, which also describes each state’s voting rules for individuals with criminal convictions. The guide walks readers through a series of questions to help them understand how each state’s laws work and gives information about how to reach officials in a particular state to register to vote and to ask questions. The Department has also produced a plain-language guide to federal voting rights laws. This guide provides basic information about the voter registration process, describes some rights available to voters under federal law, and identifies additional resources for voters seeking more information about how federal law protects the right to vote.
- The General Services Administration has issued guidance to managers of federally owned public buildings, explaining the conditions under which federal space may be made available for nonpartisan voter registration drives by 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
- The Department of Labor recently reminded state workforce development agencies about its guidance and technical assistance to states seeking NVRA designation for American Job Centers and the other ways in which programs funded by the Department may assist with voter registration. The reminder further highlighted Indiana — which designated American Job Centers as voter registration agencies years ago — as an example to help others follow suit.
Agencies across the government will continue to implement President Biden’s Executive Order using their own authorities, rolling out new initiatives as they are ready, to promote information about the electoral process and encourage electoral participation. Today and every day, the Biden-Harris Administration is dedicated to making the voting process smoother and more accessible for every eligible American.