Break out the pen and the phone because President Joe Biden isn’t done signing executive orders yet. Despite having already broken records for the largest number of executive orders signed in the shortest period of time after taking office, Uncle Joe is making his pen work overtime this weekend. To commemorate Bloody Sunday, Biden is signing an executive order intended to “promote voting access” around the country. But can he actually change the nation’s voting laws without new legislation being passed by Congress first? Technically he cannot. But the details of these vaguely defined orders don’t actually make it look like he’s really changing much of anything. (Associated Press)
President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to promote voting access, a move that comes as congressional Democrats press for a sweeping voting and elections bill to counter efforts to restrict voting access.
Biden will announce the order during a recorded address on the 56th commemoration of “Bloody Sunday,” the 1965 incident in which some 600 civil rights activists were viciously beaten by state troopers as they tried to march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.
“Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have it counted,” Biden says in a script of his recorded remarks to Sunday’s Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast.
Biden’s address paints these orders as some sort of sweeping reform, but even the Associated Press describes the details as “modest.” That’s putting it mildly. Let’s look at a few of the specifics.
The first order of business is a directive to federal officials to “expand access to voter registration and election information.” No details are offered as to how this “expansion” is supposed to be handled. There are already a dizzying number of options available for people to register if they are interested in voting. During the summer months of an election year, you can barely walk down a public street without someone asking if you’d like to register. In most suburban areas, people go door to door with registration forms. But I suppose this order makes for a good sound bite.
The next part of the agenda orders federal agencies to “come up with plans” to give federal workers paid time off to either go vote or to volunteer as poll workers. The polls stay open for the better part of 12 hours on election day in most places, and an increasing number of states offer a week or more to vote early whenever it’s convenient for you. But hey… if there’s one thing that federal employees could use, it’s more paid time off, right? I assume that would be on top of the nearly one-third of a year they can take off with pay if they so much as known anyone displaying COVID symptoms.
The last part of the order calls for an overhaul of the federal Vote.gov website. It’s hard to argue with that one, given Washington’s track record with launching new, interactive websites. If Biden is lucky, the revamped site will work at least as well as the Obamacare registration site. Speaking of which, wasn’t Status Quo Joe the Vice President when that disaster unfolded?
All in all, it looks like this announcement is serving two purposes, neither of which is going to have any direct or immediate impact on the voting process. First, since it’s being announced on Bloody Sunday, it’s an obvious sop to the civil rights movement and is intended to continue to shore up minority support for the Biden administration. Second, and probably more to the point, Biden appears to be trying to gin up support for the Democrats’ “For the People Act” which I discussed here earlier this week. Unlike these relatively toothless executive orders, that bill would be truly dangerous if it’s somehow passed into law. While doing nothing to enhance election integrity or clean up the states’ voter rolls, it would take the worst aspects of the disastrous 2020 election debacle and make them mandatory across the entire nation.
But it’s “for the people,” you know. So it must be really wonderful.