Biden marks Selma anniversary with order to broaden voting entry

Washington, March 7

US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Sunday designed to make it easier for Americans to vote, the White House said, as Republicans across the country seek to limit voting rights in the wake of the 2020 election.

Biden’s order comes on the 56th anniversary of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” when state troopers and police attacked civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, who were protesting racial discrimination at the voting booth.

“The legacy of the march in Selma is that while nothing can stop a free people from exercising their most sacred power as a citizen, there are those who will do everything they can to take that power away,” Biden said in pre-taped remarks to the “Martin & Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast” released on Sunday.

Also read: Bloody Sunday memorial to honour late civil rights giants

Last week, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed sweeping legislation to update voting procedures and require states to turn over the task of redrawing congressional districts to independent commissions. That bill faces tough chances of passing the Senate.

Biden urged the Senate to pass the bill.

His executive order directs federal agencies to submit plans within 200 days that outline steps to expand voter registration and distribute election information to voters. It also directs the US chief information officer to modernise federal websites and digital services that provide such details.

The push by Democrats to make it easier to vote comes as Republican lawmakers in dozens of states have moved to restrict voting access after former President Donald Trump’s loss in the November election.

Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged and criticised vote-by-mail efforts put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. On January 6, after a rally in which Trump urged them to fight, his supporters stormed the US Capitol as lawmakers were meeting to certify Biden’s win.

Biden cited the historic turnout in the 2020 election in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“Yet, instead of celebrating this powerful demonstration of voting — we have seen an unprecedented insurrection in our Capitol and a brutal attack on our democracy on January 6th,” he said, adding: “And to think that it’s been followed by an all-out assault on the right to vote in state legislatures all across the country happening right now.”

More than 250 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 43 states during the current legislative session, a senior administration official told reporters, citing a report from the Brennan Centre for Justice.

“In 2020 — with our very democracy on the line — even in the midst of a pandemic – more Americans voted than ever before,” Biden says in the script, adding: “Yet instead of celebrating this powerful demonstration of voting — we saw an unprecedented insurrection on our Capitol and a brutal attack on our democracy on January 6th. A never-before-seen effort to ignore, undermine and undo the will of the people.”

Biden’s remarks also pay tribute to the late civil-rights giants Reverend CT Vivian, Reverend Joseph Lowery and Republican John Lewis. All played critical roles in the 1965 organising efforts in Selma and all died in within the last year.

Biden’s executive order will also direct federal agencies to assist states with voter registration, push the General Services Administration to submit a plan to modernise the website, and mandate measures to increase voting access for federal employees, overseas voters and active duty military members.

Bloody Sunday proved to be a conscious-shocking turning point in the civil rights movement that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Reuters

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