Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has written the White House to provide recommendations on steps the president can take to promote access to voting. Following Congress’ failure to advance the Freedom to Vote Act last week, presidential action is all the more crucial.
The letter follows up on President Joe Biden’s March 2021 executive order to facilitate participation in the electoral process. The order recognized that many Americans do not have equal access to the ballot. Indeed, many people face significant and unnecessary barriers to voting.
To address this problem, Biden’s executive order leveraged the power of the federal government. It directed each federal agency to develop concrete plans within 200 days showing how they would expand opportunities to participate in the electoral process.
At the 100-day mark after the order, CLC provided suggestions to the federal government on ways to deliver on the promise of the executive order. CLC wrote to the White House and federal agencies that are particularly well-situated to support historically marginalized voters.
These included the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the General Services Administration (GSA), the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals and the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. CLC’s letter provided recommendations on how the plans developed by these agencies could facilitate the right to vote.
On the 200-day deadline in September 2021, many government agencies produced excellent plans to improve access to democracy. But much remains to be done. To further assist in accomplishing the objectives of the order, CLC has written again to the White House recommending actions the president himself can take that will facilitate access to voting.
Specifically, CLC urges the president to declare Election Day a paid holiday for federal workers. Although declaring a national holiday for everyone would be preferable, that option would require legislation.
The president has power on his own to give federal workers the day off. While the federal government already allows workers to take time away from their job to vote, having the full day off would make it easier for them to vote and participate as volunteer poll watchers or nonpartisan observers.
CLC also urges President Biden to issue an executive order requiring that contractors getting new contracts with the federal government give employees paid time off to vote and support employees who wish to volunteer as poll workers or observers.
The federal government spends around $500 billion per year on federal contractors, and the top contractors have millions of employees.
This executive order thus could dramatically expand access for a large group of people. The president has power to make this change, as shown by his prior executive order requiring government contractors to pay a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
President Biden’s executive order mobilized the federal government to protect and advance the right to vote. But the attempts to create deliberate barriers to voting and undermine this most basic right are too widespread and determined to allow any respite in our defense.
CLC’s suggestions provide additional support for the effort to facilitate access to voting. CLC hopes that the administration continues to consult with civil rights groups, affected constituencies and experts as it implements its electoral plans, and we look forward to seeing the new steps the government undertakes to expand the freedom to vote.