GOP targets a Biden executive order on voter registration ahead of the fall election

ATLANTA– Republicans and conservative activists have increasingly become targets an executive order issued three years ago by the Biden administration aimed at boosting voter registration, claiming it is unconstitutional and an attempt to interfere in the November election.

A recent fundraising email sent by a Republican Party political action committee is an example of how they are framing the order, saying it forces federal agencies “to act as Biden’s personal ‘Get-Out-The-Vote’ -machine.” The commission recently issued subpoenas to agency directors, and a group of Republican Party secretaries of state asked the Supreme Court to file a case challenging the order.

Despite opposition from the right, there is no evidence that the decision favors voters of one party over the other.

White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson said the administration will continue to do so protect voting rights of eligible citizens, regardless of their political affiliation. Biden issued the order in 2021, as Republican legislatures across the country debated a wave of state voting restrictions amid the false claims which had widespread fraud cost former president Donald Trump re-election.

“These are baseless claims from the very people who spread debunked lies about the 2020 election and used those same debunked lies to advance laws across the country that make it harder to vote and easier to undermine the will of the people.” , said Patterson. in a statement.

Here’s a look at what the order does, what federal agencies have done so far to comply with it and what Republicans are saying about it.

Biden issued the executive order on March 7, 2021, noting the Federal Government’s “duty to ensure that registering to vote and voting is made simple and convenient for everyone who is eligible” and that it would be implemented “in accordance with applicable law.” Agency leaders were asked to submit a strategic plan within 200 days.

The order provided updates to the federal website, including ensuring that voting information would be made available in more than a dozen languages. The site does not engage in directly registering voters, but instead connects visitors with state and local election offices to begin the registration process.

The order specifically names the Department of Defense and asks it to establish procedures to give active-duty military personnel the opportunity to register, update their voter registration information or request an absentee ballot each year.

It also directs the Justice Department to provide educational materials on registration and voting to those in federal custody as they prepare for release, along with information about rules that may prohibit them from voting.

A year after the order was issued, Republicans in Congress sent a letter to the White House expressing concern that the administration had overstepped its authority and directed federal agencies to engage in activities outside their mission.

Republicans said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service had informed state agencies that the costs of providing voter registration services were allowable administrative expenses under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and could be “reimbursed at the 50 percent level.” ”

“The use of the multi-billion dollar nutrition program to implement the Biden administration’s voter registration program is not only a cause for concern, but one that warrants further investigation,” the Republicans wrote.

What the letter did not say, according to a former White House official who helped implement the order, is that states administer the food assistance program and that states were specifically directed to provide voter registration information under a federal law that lasted years was adopted ago.

Justin Levitt, who served as a senior policy adviser at the White House, also said the agency was only repeating previous guidance that these costs were reimbursable.

A few months later, Republicans sent letters to federal agencies requesting information about their plans to comply with the order. They also include repealing the executive order in a broad election bill they introduced last year.

Last month, the chairman of the House Administration Committee sent letters requesting documents related to the order and set a two-week deadline to comply. The chairman, Republican Wisconsin Rep. Bryan Steil, then issued subpoenas. He called the federal order “another attempt by the Biden administration to move the balance forward to 2024.”

A White House official said the Office of Management and Budget had sent an initial response and that other agencies were in the process of responding to the committee when it issued the subpoenas.

While federal agencies have not published their proposals, they have announced steps they have taken to comply with the order.

Levitt, an attorney and constitutional law expert, described the order as groundbreaking but limited in scope. Although federal law allows agencies to assist with voter registration, he said military recruiting agencies were the only ones doing so before Biden issued the executive order. He also said a federal agency can only do this if a state requests it.

“Most of what the agencies have done is directly what states have asked them to do or clarify the rules to make sure people know what the rules are,” Levitt said.

Kansas and New Mexico have designated two Native American colleges run by the U.S. Department of the Interior as voter registration offices. Kentucky and Michigan have said they will designate Veterans Administration offices in their states. Michigan also plans to add offices of the federal Small Business Administration.

A group of Republicans, who serve as their states’ top election officials, have also been critical of the order, calling it a federal overreach of state election administration.

Secretary of State of West Virginia Mac Warner sent a letter in May 2022 asking Biden to withdraw it and spoke out against it when he testified before Congress last year. A few months ago, he issued a statement saying his state would refuse to accept voter registration forms collected by federal agencies.

“Adding federal agencies to an already complex administrative process will make it even more challenging for election officials to ensure timely and accurate registration services before the election,” he said in a statement in April.

In May, Warner joined eight other GOP secretaries of state in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to file a case challenging the order. The others came from Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wyoming.

The court rejected a plea to hear and decide the case in late June, and will not hear the case for the first time until the justices’ first private conference in early fall. In the unlikely event that the court agrees to hear the case, oral arguments will not take place until early next year.

Republicans opposed to the executive order have dubbed it “Bidenbucks,” an apparent reference to the controversy that erupted after the 2020 election when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg provided more than $350 million to a non-profit organization which was later distributed to election offices. Republicans have claimed that the “Zuckerbucks” effort was an attempt to benefit Democrats.

David Becker, a former Justice Department attorney who heads the Center for Election Innovation & According to research, the timing of the heightened criticism – years after Biden issued the executive order and just months before the presidential election – is notable.

“It is being portrayed as a power grab by a deep state, when in reality it is an attempt to ensure that eligible citizens involved with the federal government can easily register or have their registration updated,” Becker said. “It’s as innocuous as an order can be.”

He said a key benefit of the federal decision is that already registered voters will have the opportunity to update their information. This ensures more accurate voter lists, something that Republicans say is necessary.

“It’s good for election integrity. It is good for participation,” says Becker. “This used to not be controversial.”


Associated Press writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.