A little more than a year ago, President Biden issued the dubiously named “Promoting Access to Voting” executive order, essentially tasking federal agencies with embarking on what appears to be an unconstitutional “get out the vote” effort.
The order, which suspiciously comes ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, directs federal agencies to submit plans to expand voter registration opportunities and increase voter participation in elections. This unprecedented interference by a president in states’ constitutional authority to administer federal elections should give all Americans pause. Federal agencies have unique access to would-be voters, and their efforts at expanding voter participation in elections could easily be construed—and received—as a political attempt to influence voter behavior.
No president of any party should be able to use the might of the federal government and taxpayer resources to influence the outcome of elections.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen large-scale election interference before. During the 2020 election, outside influences like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative appeared to increase voter turnout in Democrat strongholds by donating vast sums of money to election offices across the nation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these so-called “Zuckerbucks” disproportionately went to counties that turned out for Joe Biden.
The fallout from this third-party interference in state elections is ongoing, with more than a dozen states banning or restricting the use of private funds to administer elections. But instead of learning a tale of caution from the unethical use of Zuckerbucks, it seems the Biden administration may have been taking notes. And instead of Zuckerbucks, states must now contend with Bidenbucks.
Many of the details about “Bidenbucks” are still unknown. Last summer, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) responded to President Biden’s executive order by filing several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Americans deserve to know how federal agencies will seek to comply with the executive order and which would-be voters will be targeted. But those requests, which include a demand for information about communications between the Biden administration and Demos—a progressive think tank that has advocated for similar federal intervention in elections—have, to date, been ignored.
President Biden’s secrecy and the lack of response to these FOIA requests have only added to the cloud of suspicion around the executive order and the use of Bidenbucks. And Americans have a right to know if their tax dollars are being used for unconstitutional and political purposes.
On April 20, 2022, FGA filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for failing to respond to the FOIA requests. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for July 12, and FGA’s legal team is currently in negotiations with DOJ over a document delivery schedule.
But there is good news.
States don’t have to wait to fight back. State lawmakers can act now to pass legislation codifying state oversight and approval authority over any changes to state election laws. Specifically, states should…
- Require approval to implement any federally issued election guidance.
When federal guidance is at odds with state law, it can leave election officials unsure of how to proceed. By requiring legislative approval of federal guidance, lawmakers can set clear instructions for state election officials to follow, as well as challenge any unlawful guidance in court.
- Require notice of federal executive branch communications about elections.
Not all directives from the federal government come by way of official guidance. And when federal agencies reach out directly to state agencies to discuss elections or the administration of certain programs, the governor and legislative body may never be the wiser. By requiring transparency in communications, state lawmakers can ward off any informal and unapproved election directives from the administration.
- Require legislative oversight of new federal election funding.
States receive federal funding for elections through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). And any new federal resources should go through a similar process of state approval and oversight. Requiring this oversight will help prevent the Zuckerbucks disaster of 2020, where private funding went directly to local election offices.
While we await DOJ’s fulfillment of FGA’s FOIA requests to determine if and how President Biden’s executive order seeks to influence Democrat voter turnout in the 2022 midterm elections, it is incumbent upon states to act now and prevent any federal interference in our free and fair elections. Doing so will preserve election integrity and boost voter confidence—even as the Biden administration’s actions attempts to undermine both.