United States

Harris to lead Biden administration’s voting rights effort

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks next to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris before signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON, June 1 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the administration’s efforts on voting rights as Republican state lawmakers across the country attempt to enact voting restrictions.

The efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to pass restrictive laws, which the White House and civil rights groups say make it harder for Americans to vote, follow former President Donald Trump's false claim that he lost the 2020 election because of widespread election fraud.

President Biden said voting rights in the United States are “under assault” with an intensity he has never seen before. “It’s simply un-American,” he said, while delivering a speech in Oklahoma during the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre.

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"I'm asking Vice President Harris to help these efforts, to lead them among her many other responsibilities. With her leadership and your support, we're going to overcome again... It's going to take a hell of a lot of work," Biden said.

Leading the charge on voting rights is the second high-profile assignment for the vice president in less than three months. In March, Biden entrusted Harris with leading U.S. efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala aimed at improving conditions and lowering migration from the region using diplomacy.

"In the last election, more people voted than ever before. Since then, more than 380 bills have been introduced across the country that would make it harder for Americans to vote," Harris said in a statement.

"Our administration will not stand by when confronted with any effort that keeps Americans from voting...We must protect the fundamental right to vote for all Americans regardless of where they live," Harris added.

Separately, Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives boycotted a legislative session late Sunday, blocking a vote on an election reform bill critics say would put up barriers for Blacks and Hispanics voters. A vote on the measure is certain to pass the Republican-dominated house.

So far, 14 other U.S. states have enacted 22 laws this year that make it more difficult for Americans to vote, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

In May, dozens of companies - including American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O), Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co (HPE.N) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) - urged legislators to reject any law restricting access to ballots.

Both Biden and Harris have also asked Congress to pass HR 1 - a flagship election reform bill that would update voting procedures - and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would prevent discriminatory changes to voting laws.

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Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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