It’s been more than 50 years since activists in the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century forced the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to address rampant racial discrimination in voting. Yet today, Black and brown citizens still face systematic efforts to suppress their votes, silence their voices, and stymie progress towards a multiracial, inclusive democracy.
Just as the VRA was necessary to address a century of racist voter suppression under Jim Crow, this moment—rife with state-level efforts orchestrated to weaken our democracy by making it harder to register and cast a ballot—demands a full-throttle response from the federal government. Most importantly, we need the For the People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—comprehensive legislation that protects the fundamental right to vote and strengthens our democracy.
President Biden took an important first step by issuing his Executive Order Promoting Access to Voting.
However, even without an act of Congress, the administration and the federal agencies can take meaningful actions to ensure the people they serve—young people, Native Americans, new Americans, veterans, people who make low incomes, people of color—can exercise their fundamental right to vote. President Biden took an important first step by issuing his Executive Order Promoting Access to Voting. Now we need strong follow-through from both the administration and its agencies.
Over the last several weeks, our colleagues have detailed positive steps some agencies are taking to promote access to voting for their constituents and what else agencies must do to meet the urgency of this moment. Lee Page from Paralyzed Veterans of America celebrated the significant progress of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) toward securing access to voting among veterans. Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Sharné Haywood detailed what the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should do to advance access to voting and, in turn, build healthy communities. Demos Director of Legal Strategies Kira Romero-Craft shared her story of naturalization and voter registration, calling upon U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to make her experience possible for every single new American they serve. And Ashley Tjhung of Demos lays out what several agencies—including the Department of Education (ED)—must do to make the promise of democracy real for young people.
Millions more students, veterans, people of color, people who make low incomes, and others could be registered if federal agencies provide similar voter registration opportunities.
Voter registration at public agencies like these is not new. State agencies like the DMV and Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF offices have been registering voters for nearly three decades. In doing so, they have promoted access to voting for tens of millions of eligible people. Millions more students, veterans, people of color, people who make low incomes, and others could be registered if federal agencies provide similar voter registration opportunities. In so doing, not only will agencies meet the charge of the EO and promote access to voting, they’ll also advance their own missions. As just one example, HHS exists to promote healthy communities—and research shows that more civically engaged communities often have better health outcomes.
The Biden administration and federal agencies cannot waste any more time. They must fully implement the Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting. The threats to a multiracial, inclusive democracy are as imminent as they are extreme. Our federal officials must do everything within their authority to protect and promote the fundamental right to vote—and they must do it now.