Vice President Harris Announces Additional Steps in Response to the to the President’s Executive Order to Promote Access to Voting
Since their first days in office, President Biden and Vice President Harris have prioritized strengthening our democracy and taken steps to protect voters from the current efforts to suppress the vote and subvert our electoral process. The unprecedented nature and scale of the present attacks on voting rights must be met with federal legislation, which is why the President and Vice President have repeatedly called for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The President and Vice President have also forcefully called for changing Senate rules to prevent a minority of Senators from blocking action on this fundamental right from which all other rights flow.
Congress still has the responsibility to act, but the President is committed to using every tool at his disposal to protect the sacred right to vote. On March 7, 2021, the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, he signed an Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting, directing an all-of-government effort to promote information about the voting process and to further the ability of all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy. That work is ongoing, and agencies will continue to develop ways to deliver non-partisan election information and enable eligible Americans to register and to vote.
A key provision of the Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting highlighted the unique trust responsibility that the Federal government has for Tribal Nations and Native communities. In light of this responsibility, President Biden directed the creation of an Interagency Steering Group on Native American Voting Rights, whose mission is to study the barriers Native voters face in casting their ballot and having those votes counted, and to recommend steps to mitigate or eliminate these barriers. For far too long, members of Tribal Nations and Native communities have faced unnecessary burdens when they attempt to exercise their sacred right to vote. Native voters often have to overcome language barriers, a lack of accessibility for voters with disabilities, cultural disrespect and outright hostility, geographically remote residences, and persistent poverty — conditions that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. State laws and local practices also present too many Native voters with undue impediments to full and fair exercise of the franchise, including barriers in receiving information about the voting process, discriminatory redistricting, and burdens in voter registration, voter identification, voting in person, and voting by mail.
The Steering Group held consultations with Tribal leaders and Native Americans across the country, and engaged in listening sessions with Native Hawaiians, organizations advocating for improved Tribal voting rights, and state and local election officials in jurisdictions with sizable Native populations. These sessions revealed recurring, unnecessary, and unacceptable impediments to the franchise. The report released today chronicles the barriers Native voters face and recommends actions for policymakers at every level to help break these barriers down. To live up to the recommendations of the report, the Department of the Interior is taking the unique step of translating it into six Native languages that reflect the regional consultation structure: Navajo, Yup’ik, Ojibwe, Cherokee, Lakota, and Native Hawaiian. The translations will be available in writing and by audio.
A few key recommendations from the report include:
- Congress should pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which includes the Native American Voting Rights Act. States do not need to wait for Congress to take this action— they can and should pass legislation incorporating and building upon the protections in the Native American Voting Rights Act, as several states since 2017 have already done.
- Federal, state, and local policymakers should institutionalize engagement of Tribal leaders and Native communities, including in ensuring that county and municipal election officials locate offices and polling places serving Native communities for convenience to Native voters, and staff those sites with well-trained, bilingual members of those communities.
- The U.S. Postal Service should evaluate whether it can add routes, offices, and staff hours or personnel in areas serving Native communities, and should prioritize assigning postal addresses to homes on Tribal lands.
- Government offices with significant presence serving Native communities should expeditiously offer their programs for state designation under the National Voter Registration Act, and state officials should accept those requests for designation.
- Jurisdictions serving Native voters should ensure that they offer effective language assistance through adequate translation of materials in appropriate media, even when no statutory mandate compels them to do so.
This important report is the product of an extensive effort across the Administration — and it is also just a beginning. There will be more to come in the weeks and months ahead, as agencies work with partners and allies to implement the report’s recommendations.
Agencies have also been working to implement other provisions of the President’s Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting, offering nonpartisan information and opportunities to help eligible Americans participate. Those efforts will continue across the whole of government, with new actions rolling out as they are ready for release. A selection of recent developments from individual agencies follows:
- The U.S. Small Business Administration formally requested designation by Michigan as a voter registration agency under the National Voter Registration Act, becoming the first federal agency to request designation in any state. Designation would ensure that Americans seeking service from a designated District Office are offered convenient one-stop opportunities to register to vote at the same time.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs launched a survey to over 12 million Veterans in a first-of-its-kind effort to better understand Veterans’ experience with the voter registration process, and to better assist Veterans in addressing and overcoming any challenges. The Department also developed a website for Veterans with nonpartisan information about voter registration and elections at va.gov/vote: How Veterans Can Register To Vote | Veterans Affairs (va.gov). And the Department announced that, by summer, it would launch a pilot program for VA Medical Centers and other offices in six states, with an eye to the geographic and demographic diversity of the Veteran population, seeking designation as a voter registration agency under the National Voter Registration Act.
- The Department of the Interior announced that it is working with states to formally designate the Department-operated post-secondary Tribal institutions — Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in New Mexico — as voter registration agencies under the National Voter Registration Act, facilitating voter registration opportunities for enrolled students and members of the community.
- With Treasury Department and IRS support, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites throughout the country are assisting taxpayers with access to voting opportunities. The VITA centers provide assistance to low-income taxpayers with their returns. This year, over 450 VITA centers in 40 states have reported that they will provide information about voting opportunities. The IRS has also placed voter registration information referring taxpayers to vote.gov in the Form 1040 Instructions both online and in print.
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology at the Department of Commerce released a reportexamining barriers across the voting process for people with disabilities. The report offers recommendations for state and local election officials, the federal government, and other non-governmental organizations to eliminate or mitigate those barriers.
- The Office of Personnel Management issued guidance to agencies to offer paid time off that will ensure that the thousands of federal employees in every state have time to vote and to serve in nonpartisan election-related capacities, including as volunteer poll workers. The guidance amounts to a significant step in fulfilling the directive in the President’s Executive Order that the federal government should serve as a model employer in facilitating employees’ civic participation.
- The Department of Justice is offering information and resources to individuals in federal custody to promote access to voting for those who remain eligible to vote while incarcerated or who will regain eligibility to vote upon their release. The Department also created an online resource for the public that connects them with state-specific information about registering and voting, details the Department’s enforcement of federal voting rights laws, and explains how to report potential violations.
- The Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration issued guidancefor nearly 1,400 federally funded community health centers, with more than 14,000 service delivery sites providing primary care to nearly 29 million patients in underserved areas in every state across the country, clarifying the ways in which those health centers may support voter registration efforts.
- At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Public and Indian Housing wrote to more than 3,000 public housing authorities managing approximately 1.2 million public housing units, explaining the ways in which grantees may support voter registration and information about the electoral process. The Office of Multifamily Housing reminded multifamily owners and agents of HUD-assisted properties about residents’ voting rights and opportunities to support their exercise of the franchise. And the Office of Field Policy and Management connected with local election officers and placed voter registration materials in all 10 HUD Regional Offices across the country.
- The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released best practices election checklists—in five different languages—to be distributed to voters experiencing homelessness and to service providers who can help them register and vote.
- The Department of Labor is providing guidance to state and local workforce officials on how they can work with state elections officials to designate 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’s guidance also clarifies which programs receiving federal workforce development funds could support nonpartisan voter registration efforts.
- The Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service issued letters to state agencies administering nutrition assistance programs to encourage the promotion of voter registration and non-partisan voting information. For state SNAP and WIC agencies, the letters remind states of their responsibilities under the National Voter Registration Act.
- The Department of Education will send a letter next week to institutions of higher education highlighting their responsibilities under the Higher Education Act to make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to the more than 19 million students enrolled in these institutions. The Department last reminded institutions of this requirement in 2013. The letter will also explain the conditions under which work-study funds may be used to support nonpartisan community service activity related to the electoral process.