Biden marks Selma anniversary with order to expand voting access

FILE PHOTO: A woman carries a sign reading "Go Vote" outside the Brown Chapel AME Church before the Annual Bloody Sunday March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, U.S., March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Sunday designed to make it easier for Americans to vote, White House officials 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.

On Wednesday 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's 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 U.S. chief information officer to modernize 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 criticized vote-by-mail efforts put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. On Jan. 6, after a rally in which Trump urged them to fight, his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were meeting to certify Biden's win.

"Our nation just witnessed an unprecedented insurrection in the Capitol. And we are in the midst of newly aggressive attacks on voting rights taking place right now in state legislatures all across the country," a senior administration official told reporters on Saturday.

"As the president frames it in the executive order ... it is our duty to ensure that registering to vote and the act of voting be made simple and easy for all those eligible to do so," the official said.

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

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 modernize the website, and mandate measures to increase voting access for federal employees, overseas voters and active duty military members.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason; Editing by Richard Chang)

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