GOP targets Biden's executive order on voter registration

ATLANTA – Republicans and conservative activists are increasingly criticizing an executive order issued three years ago by the Biden administration to extend voter registration, saying it’s unconstitutional and an try and interfere within the November election.

A recent fundraising email sent by a Republican political motion committee is an example of how they’re interpreting the order, saying it forces federal agencies to “act as Biden's personal voter mobilization machine.” A Republican-led House committee recently sent subpoenas to the agency heads, and a bunch of Republican secretaries of state have asked the Supreme Court to take up the challenge to the order.

Despite opposition from the precise, there isn’t any evidence that the arrangement favors voters of 1 party over one other.

White House spokeswoman Robyn Patterson said the administration would proceed to guard the voting rights of eligible residents no matter their political affiliation. Biden issued the order in 2021 as Republican legislatures across the country were debating a wave of state voting restrictions amid false claims that widespread voter 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 debunked lies to push through laws across the country that make it harder to vote and easier to undermine the will of the people,” Patterson said in a press release.

Here's what the order does, what federal agencies have done up to now to comply with it, and what Republicans are saying about it.

Biden issued the manager order on March 7, 2021, emphasizing the federal government's “obligation to ensure that voter registration and voting are simple and straightforward for all eligible voters” and that this might be implemented “consistent with applicable law.” Agency heads were asked to submit a strategic plan inside 200 days.

The order called for updates to the federal website, including ensuring that voting information is made available in greater than a dozen languages. The website just isn’t directly involved in voter registration but connects visitors with state and native election offices to start the registration process.

The order specifically mentions the Department of Defense and asks it to ascertain procedures that give lively military members the chance to register, update their voter registration information, or request an absentee ballot every year.

It also directs the Justice Department to offer people in federal custody with educational materials about registration and voting prior to their release, and to tell them about regulations that would prohibit them from voting.

A 12 months after the manager order was passed, Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the White House expressing concern that the administration was exceeding its authority and directing federal agencies to conduct activities beyond their duties.

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

“The use of the nation's multi-billion dollar nutrition program to implement the Biden administration's voter registration system is not only a cause for concern, it also deserves closer scrutiny,” the Republicans wrote.

What the letter didn’t mention, in line with 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 offer their voter registration information due to a federal law passed years ago.

Justin Levitt, a senior White House policy adviser, also said the agency was simply reiterating its previous statement that these expenses were reimbursable.

A number of months later, Republicans sent letters to federal authorities requesting details about their plans to comply with the order and demanding that the order be repealed in a sweeping election bill they introduced last 12 months.

Last month, the chairman of the House Committee on Administration sent letters requesting documents related to the order and setting a two-week deadline to comply. The chairman, Republican Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin, issued subpoenas in response, calling the federal order “yet another attempt by the Biden administration to tip the balance before 2024.”

A White House official said the Office of Management and Budget had sent an initial response and other agencies were working to reply the committee's questions when it issued the subpoenas.

While federal authorities haven’t yet released their proposals, they’ve announced steps they’ve taken to comply with the order.

Levitt, a lawyer and constitutional law expert, called the order groundbreaking but limited in scope. Although federal law allows agencies to help with voter registration, he said that before Biden's order, only military recruiting offices did so. He also said that a federal agency could only accomplish that if a state requested it.

“Most of what the authorities have done is exactly what the states have asked them to do, or they have clarified the rules to make sure people know what the rules are,” Levitt said.

Kansas and New Mexico have designated two Native American colleges operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as voter registration authorities. Kentucky and Michigan have announced that they’ll establish Veterans Administration offices of their states. Michigan also plans to ascertain federal Small Business Administration offices.

A bunch of Republicans who function their state's top election officials also criticized the order, calling it a federal government intrusion into states' election administration.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner urged Biden to repeal the law in a letter in May 2022 and opposed it during his testimony before Congress last 12 months. A number of months ago, he issued a press release saying his state would now not accept voter registration forms collected by federal agencies.

“Involving federal agencies in an already complex administrative process will make it even more difficult for election officials to ensure timely and accurate pre-election registration services,” he said in a press release in April.

In May, Warner, together with eight other Republican secretaries of state from Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wyoming, filed a transient with the U.S. Supreme Court urging the justices to take up a case difficult the order.

The court denied a request to listen to and choose the case by the tip of June. It is not going to be heard for the primary time until the justices' first private conference in early fall. In the unlikely event that the court agrees to listen to the case, the hearing wouldn’t happen until early next 12 months.

Republicans who oppose the order consult with it as “Bidenbucks,” an apparent reference to the controversy that erupted after the 2020 election when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave greater than $350 million to a nonprofit that was later distributed to election offices. Republicans claim the “Zuckerbucks” effort was an attempt to provide Democrats a bonus.

David Becker, a former Justice Department lawyer who directs the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said the timing of the increased criticism — years after Biden issued the manager order and just months before the presidential election — is notable.

“It's being portrayed as a deep state power grab, when in reality it's about making sure that eligible citizens who come into contact with the federal government can easily register or update their registration,” Becker said. “It's as harmless as an order can get.”

“It's good for the integrity of the elections. It's good for participation,” Becker said. “It wasn't controversial in the past.”

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

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