How states are punching back on Biden’s federal election takeover

By Around the Web

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by The Daily Signal.]

By Fred Lucas
The Daily Signal

During a conference call with White House officials, top state election officials wanted to know how the Biden administration intended to implement its government-backed get-out-the-vote effort in 2024.

The White House answer essentially was that “those plans are not public and they never intended for them to be public,” according to two secretaries of state who were on the call last week.

“The sad part is, that answer should have been a surprise but it wasn’t,” Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, a Republican, told The Daily Signal.

Secretaries of state typically are their states’ chief election officials. Their growing frustration comes as more than two dozen state lawmakers in Pennsylvania, a major battleground state, ask the Supreme Court to block President Joe Biden’s executive order to increase voter registration.

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Mississippi’s Watson noted that in 2020, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife spent $400 million for election administration grants targeting key jurisdictions that would drive up the Democrat vote.

But, he added, Biden’s putting the power of the federal government behind a similar effort is “1,000%” worse.

The call with White House officials was coordinated by the National Association of Secretaries of State, Watson said.

“We might join in that Pennsylvania case with an amicus brief,” West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, told The Daily Signal. “Now we are leading an effort among secretaries of state to push back against partisan election interference and a get-out-the-vote effort using federal tax dollars.”

In 2022, Warner led a group of 14 other secretaries of state who asked Biden to rescind his executive order from the year before, since states are supposed to run elections.

“There is something surreptitious about the Biden administration and the lack of transparency that reveals what is going on here,” Warner said. “The federal government is not supposed to be doing this. We need states to stand firm on this.”

Federal plans largely have been shrouded in secrecy since Biden signed Executive Order 14019 in March 2021, directing federal agencies to work with nonprofit groups to boost voting.

Involved nonprofits include left-leaning organizations such as Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Brennan Center for Justice, as The Daily Signal has reported using details obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“It was troublesome on the phone call [with the White House]. Several spoke up that none of these third-party groups partnering with federal agencies are associated with Republicans or conservatives,” Watson said. “They responded, ‘We welcome anyone.’ Well, they aren’t bringing them to the table.”

In July 2021, the White House held a “listening session” with dozens of left-leaning groups on plans for implementing Biden’s executive order, according to documents obtained by the Foundation for Government Accountability through the Freedom of Information Act.

Those groups include the Southern Poverty Law Center, People for the American Way, the Stacey Abrams-founded Fair Fight Action, an the George Soros-backed Open Society Policy Center.

The White House did not respond to The Daily Signal’s inquiries for this report.

In Pennsylvania, 27 Republican members of the state Legislature sued both Biden over his executive order on elections and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, also a Democrat, over his own executive order implementing automatic voter registration.

The plaintiffs contend that both orders violated the constitutional rights of state legislators to make election law.

“The executive order is beyond the scope and powers of a president, not to mention he is interfering in an election where he is on the ballot,” said Pennsylvania state Rep. Dawn Keefer, a Republican who is chair of the Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus and lead plaintiff in the case.

“We need courts to clarify if legislators have standing. We believe it is a solid case,” Keefer said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “We believe we have standing not only as legislators but, for most of us, as candidates who will be affected by these actions.”

In late March, a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed the case on standing without considering the merits, stating that the Pennsylvania Legislature wasn’t harmed as an institution. The lawmakers are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting that the rights of individual legislators were violated.

“The judge’s decision would imply that every single member of the Legislature [must] agree on something before the constitutional and civil rights of legislators can be enforced,” Heather Honey, executive director of Election Research Institute, a watchdog organization whose lawyers represent the suing lawmakers, told The Daily Signal. “There is no way you could ever get agreement.”

Honey noted that Democrat legislators twice proposed automatic voter registration, but the bills were defeated in committee.

The effort, she said, was a tacit acknowledgment that such a measure would require legislation and couldn’t be done through a governor’s executive order. Shapiro implemented automatic voter registration through an executive order anyway.

The federal government’s coordination of voter registration efforts has the most far-reaching impact, Honey said.

“The federal government has no right getting involved in the method of selecting presidential electors,” Honey said. “Time, place, and manner of elections is to be decided by Congress, such as the Help America Vote Act. Otherwise, it’s up to the states.”

“There is no role for the president in regulating elections. The full force of the federal government unleashed by an unlawful executive order is interfering in a presidential election,” she added. “Obviously, the Founding Fathers never intended for a president to have the power to use the government for a get-out-the-vote campaign.”

GOP lawmakers contend that the president’s executive order puts the federal government’s thumb on the scale in elections, which are supposed to be the purview of states.

Republicans also argue that Biden’s order could prompt federal employees to violate the Hatch Act, which bars them from any political activity on government time or using government resources.

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by The Daily Signal.]

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