Agencies Respond to President Biden’s Call for All-of-Government Action on Information on Voting and Opportunities to Register and Vote
As President Biden has said, democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend, strengthen, and renew it to ensure free and fair elections that reflect the will of the American people. Too many Americans face significant obstacles to exercising their sacred, fundamental right to vote. For generations, discriminatory policies have suppressed the votes of Black Americans and other voters of color. Voters of color are more likely than white voters to face long lines at the polls and are disproportionately burdened by overly restrictive 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. Lack of access to language assistance is an obstacle for many voters. People with disabilities face longstanding barriers to exercising their right to vote, especially when it comes to legally required accommodations to vote privately and independently. Members of our military also face unnecessary challenges to exercising their right to vote.
While the President continues to call on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which includes bold reforms to make it more equitable and accessible for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote, he also knows we can’t wait to act. That is why on March 7, the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the President signed an Executive Order to leverage the resources of the federal government to increase access to voter registration services and information about voting, helping deliver on the promise of Congressman Lewis’ fight against these anti-voter burdens and the fight of so many others seeking to protect the right to vote before and since. Today, more than a dozen agencies across the federal government are announcing steps they are taking to respond to the President’s call for an all-of-government action to promote voting access and to further the ability of all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.
The Executive Order is only part of the President’s efforts to protect the right to vote and ensure all eligible citizens can freely participate in the electoral process. For months, Vice President Harris has engaged the American people; civil and voting rights advocacy groups; pollworkers; and other voting populations around the country that have been historically marginalized to advance the Administration’s efforts to protect the right to vote. The President has appointed strong civil rights leadership at the Department of Justice. And he has partnered with civil rights organizations, the business community, faith leaders, young Americans, and others to activate an all-hands-on-deck effort to protect this sacred right and uphold democratic values.
The Executive Order called for each agency to submit to Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice a strategic plan outlining the ways that the agency can promote nonpartisan voter registration and voter participation. These strategic plans are just the beginning of each agency’s commitments. In the weeks and months to come, agencies will further build out their capacity to get relevant information out to the public, help eligible voters better understand their opportunities for engagement, and facilitate participation in the electoral process.
New key early actions to implement the President’s Order include:
- • The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service will encourage the provision of nonpartisan voter information through its borrowers and guaranteed lenders, who interface with thousands of residents in the process of changing their voting address every year. In addition, Rural Development agencies — which are spread throughout field offices across the country where rural Americans can apply for housing, facilities, or business assistance — will take steps to promote access to voter registration forms and other pertinent nonpartisan election information among their patrons.
- The Department of Defense will support a comprehensive approach to information and voting awareness for servicemembers and civilian personnel voting at home, in addition to the structure currently assisting members of the military stationed away from home and citizens overseas. The Department will develop materials in additional languages and send nonpartisan information at regular intervals before federal elections to ensure that eligible servicemembers and their families — particularly first-time voters — have opportunities to register and vote if they wish.
- The Department of Education will prepare a tool kit of resources and strategies for increasing civic engagement at the elementary school, secondary school, and higher education level, helping more than 67 million students — and their families — learn about civic opportunities and responsibilities. The Department will also remind educational institutions of their existing obligation and encourage institutions to identify further opportunities to assist eligible students with voter registration.
- The General Services Administration will ensure vote.gov is a user-friendly portal for Americans to find the information they need most to register and vote. Available in over ten languages and in a format accessible for voters with disabilities, vote.gov will make it easier for eligible users to register to vote or confirm their registration status. Agencies across the federal government will link to vote.gov to encourage Americans to participate in the electoral process.
- The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living will launch a new voting access hub to connect older adults and people with disabilities to information, tools and resources to help them understand and exercise their right to vote. The Indian Health Service will offer its patients assistance with voter registration. The President’s Budget also requests a 25% increase in grants for the Administration for Community Living to distribute to state Protection and Advocacy systems, to provide a range of services that ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in the electoral process.
- The Department of Homeland Security will invite state and local governments and nonpartisan nonprofit organizations to register voters at the end of naturalization ceremonies for the hundreds of thousands of citizens naturalized each year, and will develop a new online resource on voting for recently naturalized citizens. The Department will also provide information and resources for voters impacted by a disaster or emergency event through its training preparedness initiatives.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development will communicate with public housing authorities (PHAs) — more than 3000 authorities, managing approximately 1.2 million public housing units — through a letter to Executive Directors that provides useful information to PHAs about permissible ways to inform residents of non-partisan voter registration information and services. The Department will also assist relevant HUD-funded service providers by highlighting and sharing promising practices that improve non-partisan voting registration and voting access for people experiencing homelessness.
- The Institute of Museum and Library Services will create and distribute a toolkit of resources and strategies that libraries, museums, and heritage and cultural institutions can use to promote civic engagement and participation in the voting process.
- The Department of the Interior will disseminate information on registering and voting, including through on-site events, at schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education and Tribal Colleges and Universities, serving about 30,000 students. The Department will also, where possible, offer Tribal College and University campuses for designation by states as voter registration agencies under the National Voter Registration Act.
- The Department of Justice has created an online resource for the public that will provide links to state-specific information about registering and voting; detail the Department’s enforcement of federal voting rights laws and guidance it has issued to jurisdictions on the scope of those laws; and explain how to report potential violations. The Department will also provide information about voting to individuals in federal custody, facilitate voting by those who remain eligible to do so while in federal custody, and educate individuals before reentry about voting rules and voting rights in their states. And after the Census Bureau determines localities with specific responsibilities for language access, the Department will deliver guidance and conduct outreach to each covered jurisdiction to facilitate compliance.
- The Department of Labor will issue guidance encouraging states to designate the more than 2,400 American Job Centers, which provide employment, training, and career services to workers in every state, as voter registration agencies under the National Voter Registration Act. The Department of Labor will continue to require Job Corps centers to implement procedures for enrollees to vote, and where local law and leases permit, encourage Job Corps centers to serve as polling precincts. The Department will also provide guidance that grantees can use federal workforce development funding, where consistent with program authority, to conduct nonpartisan voter registration efforts with participants.
- The Department of Transportation will communicate guidance to transit systems — including more than 1,150 rural public transit systems and more than 1,000 urban public transit systems — to consider providing free and reduced fare service on election days and consider placing voter registration materials in high-transit stations. The Department will also work with state and local entities seeking to mitigate traffic and construction impacts on routes to the polls, particularly in underserved communities.
- The Department of the Treasury will include information about registration and voter participation in its direct deposit campaigns for Americans who receive Social Security, Veterans Affairs, and other federal benefit payments.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs will provide materials and assistance in registering and voting for tens of thousands of inpatients and residents, including VA Medical Center inpatients and residents of VA nursing homes and treatment centers for homeless veterans. The Department will also facilitate assistance in registering and voting for homebound veterans and their caregivers through VA’s home-based and telehealth teams.