12:02 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Justin. Thank you so much and for all of your work and your continued leadership on this issue.
So, hello, everyone. It’s good to be with you. I was just looking up on the screen at — at the participants. And I want to just thank you before I start offering you a few comments. But thank you for your dedication and commitment to this issue.
I know it’s been — it’s — you know, it’s frustrating. It’s been frustrating, but we are committed, and we are not giving up in any way in terms of what we will do together on this most important issue.
So today, we are joined by members of our administration and by leaders who are activists, who are organizers, and who are the opinion leaders of their communities.
And we are fighting, all of us, together every day to safeguard and to strengthen the freedom to vote.
As many of you know and you were there earlier this month, I was in Selma, like so many of us, to commemorate this year the 57th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and to reaffirm that President Biden and I will continue to fight for the freedom to vote by continuing to push Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which, of course, I was proud to sponsor when I was as United States senator. And we are committed through what we can do to take executive action.
So, last year, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Biden signed an executive order that directed executive agencies to do everything in their power to promote voting access and protect the freedom to vote.
And today, I’m proud to be joined by representatives of the 11 executive agencies that have been working since that order was signed to create ambitious and — and affirmative ways to use their legal authority to accomplish our shared goals.
Today, they will provide detailed updates on those efforts and will solicit your perspective — your candid perspective is what we want and need — on these important steps moving forward so that we can ensure that they’re not only relevant but that they will hit the streets and have an impact.
Before they — they share the work that they are doing, I just want to share three quick announcements. As many of you know, disabled Americans often face unique challenges in exercising their freedom to vote.
I had the honor of convening some of the leaders at — in my office here in Washington, D.C., to have these discussions and — and to talk about what we must do to address these challenges.
And I don’t need to tell you all, you know, voting systems can be very difficult for many people to use — and in particular, blind or low-vision voters.
Polling places can be extremely difficult to access for voters who use wheelchairs or that fail — those voting locations that fail to offer appropriate support for voters who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In 2020, disabled Americans were almost twice as likely to experience problems while voting than other populations. And I think we all know and agree this is completely unacceptable.
So today, I’m proud to announce that the National Institute of Standards and Technology is releasing a report that lays out a comprehensive assessment of the barriers that disabled Americans face when they’re voting and offers specific recommendations for what we must do with a sense of urgency to break down those barriers — for example, including more disabled people in the design of election procedures because, of course, we should be having the leaders lead and — and not replacing what we think is — is important with what leaders can tell us is important.
And it’s about also conducting more regular and more comprehensive accessibility audits of voting sites and systems so that we can make sure what we intend is actually happening.
Today, we are also announcing new steps to protect the voting rights of members of Tribal Nations and Native communities.
Last year, I brought together a group of Tribal leaders and leaders from Native American and Alaska Native communities here at the White House to discuss the discrimination and the exclusion that Native Americans have experienced historically and continue to experience in exercising their freedom to vote.
And I brought them in to also strategize about what we must do as a nation to correct that obvious injustice.
So, today, informed by those conversations and many others, our administration is releasing a set of proposed actions that elections officials and federal, state, and local policymakers can and really must take to help secure the freedom to vote for members of Tribal Nations and Native communities.
For example, improving and expanding postal service in Native communities so that more people can vote by mail and increasing the number of polling places in those communities to make in-person voting more accessible.
Finally, today, we are announcing new guidance that will make it easier for federal employees to vote and to serve as nonpartisan election workers by giving them more paid time off to participate in our democracy and more flexibility in being able to use that time off — for example, to cast a ballot early or to serve as a poll worker in federal, state, local, Tribal, or territorial elections.
We believe the federal government should serve as a model employer — and, by the way, we’re the largest employer in the country, so we can do this and we should do this — and then therefore serve as a model employer when it comes to helping employees participate in their democracy. And we’re going to therefore call on all employers to do the same.
The President and I have the full power of the executive branch behind this effort. And I commend the agencies that are here today for your innovative work.
It is going to take — it will continue to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to protect our democracy. And together, with your help, I know we can safeguard and strengthen the freedom to vote for generations to come.
Thank you all for the work you do. Thank you for the work you do. It’s hard work. It is work that is done with great commitment and conviction and passion and, obviously, a very profound sense of purpose.
As you know, the President and I — we — we hold bilateral meetings with heads of nations around the world. We travel. The President right now is, of course, overseas. And we talk about and believe ourselves to be a — one of the best, if not the best, models of a democracy. And this issue of voting rights and the freedom to vote, I think we all know, is one of the most important pillars and indications of that strength or not.
And so, this work is critical in terms of what it means to an individual, what it means to society, what it means to our nation, and what it means to our standing in the world. And you all are doing the work on the ground every day, and I can’t thank you enough.
END 12:11 P.M. EDT
12:02 P.M. EDT