MADISON — By hook or by crook, President Joe Biden is doing what he can to federalize elections — the constitution be damned.
A group of Republican lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville), is calling out the administration for exceeding its constitutional and statutory authority in directing federal agencies to get involved in elections.
In Mach 2021, Biden signed an executive order on promoting access to voting. Among its provisions, the order:
- Directs federal agencies to assist states with voter registration if a state requests assistance
- Expands the use of vote.gov and suggests agencies add a link to it on their websites
- Proposes ways to increase federally funded government employee participation in the voting process.
And the agencies have complied.
In January, the Small Business Administration (SBA) proudly announced it was the first federal agency to apply to be a voter agency.
“As the first federal agency to request designation as a voter agency, small business owners and others will have the services they need to ensure their voices are heard at the ballot box and fair representation for their communities,” the agency declared.
Republicans on the House Small Business Committee say that’s not the SBA’s job, that the agency’s priorities are out of whack.
“Instead of focusing on the needs of small businesses, the SBA seems to be more interested in directing their resources elsewhere. Main Street USA and American families are under siege,” committee members said in a statement. “Inflation, under Biden and Pelosi, continues to run rampant. Small businesses cannot hire due to a labor shortage. Supply chain disruptions are hurting daily business operations. The price of gas at the pump is crippling budgets and pocketbooks. These are the real issues the Biden administration and the SBA should be prioritizing, not partisan political activities.”
In March, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service sent four letters to state agencies to encourage them to provide local program operators with promotional materials, including voter registration information.
In a letter to Shalanda Young, Biden’s director of the Office of Budget Management, and Susan Rice, White House Domestic Policy Council director, the nine Republican lawmakers raised concerns that the executive branch is abusing its power — wading into the domain of the states and Congress.
“According to Article I, section 4 of the Constitution, states have the primary role in establishing election law and administering elections. And, to the extent the Elections Clause contains a federal ‘fail-safe,’ it is the Congress to whom the Constitution delegates that power, not the President,” the lawmakers write.
“The President’s role is limited to enforcing enacted legislation passed by Congress; therefore, the President must exercise great restraint when attempting to act on election law.”
So what, pray tell, does the SBA have to do with elections? As the House members note, SBA’s mission is to assist small businesses with growing, expanding, and creating jobs – the sole federal agency dedicated to this task. It’s had a hard time simply handling its core mission in recent years.
Same with the USDA and its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The lawmakers question the Department’s opinion that “the cost of providing voter registration services, including application processes and training for staff, are allowable SNAP administrative expenses and are reimbursed at the 50 percent level.”
“Using the nation’s multi-billion-dollar nutrition program to implement the Biden Administration’s voter registration scheme is not only a cause for concern, but one that necessitates further scrutiny,” the congressional members write.
In his order, Biden invokes the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, insisting that executive “departments and agencies should partner with State, local, Tribal, and territorial election officials to protect and promote the exercise of the right to vote, eliminate discrimination and other barriers to voting, and expand access to voter registration and accurate election information.”
“It is our duty to ensure that registering to vote and the act of voting be made simple and easy for all those eligible to do so,” the order states.
But the executive branch has only so much authority. And so does the federal government.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) , ranking member on the Committee on Small Business, recently said the administration had yet to respond the letter he and his eight colleagues sent in March.
Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate failed to pass a so-called voting rights protection act that would, among other things, give the federal government sweeping powers over state elections. The “For the People Act,” as the bill was sold to the American people, would have overridden “hundreds of state laws governing the orderly conduct of elections, federalize control of voting and elections to a degree without precedent in American history, end two centuries of state power to draw congressional districts, turn the Federal Elections Commission into a partisan weapon, and massively burden political speech against the government while offering government handouts to congressional campaigns and campus activists,” according to National Review’s Editorial Board.
The bill passed in the Democrat-controlled House with every Democrat voting for and every Republican voting against. It failed in the Senate because two Dem senators refused to go along with a campaign to end the filibuster rule to pass the legislation.
So the left has counted on the Biden administration and executive fiat to do what it can’t get done legislatively.
The nine Republican lawmakers seeking answers from the White House on its constitutionally suspect executive order have submitted the following questions:
- The Executive Order directs agencies to consider soliciting and facilitating approved, third-party organizations and state officials to provide voter registration services on agency premises. What are the criteria for such approval, including the responsible parties or clearance process for such approval? Please provide a list of third- party entities that have been solicited and a list that have been approved, to date.
- Which states, if any, have requested assistance for voter registration from federal agencies, and, specifically, what assistance have they requested?
- Regarding the plans federal agencies submitted in response to the Executive Order in September 2021, have all agencies submitted their plans? If not, which agencies have not responded? Of the agencies that have submitted their plans, are they executing these plans and if so, how are they being enforced? Have any agencies made changes to their plans? If so, what changes have been made? Please provide copies of each agency’s current plan.
- What statutory authorities enable each federal agency to engage in voter registration and share election information? How does engaging in activities related to voter registration further each individual federal agency’s mission?
- Have agencies estimated the amount of funding it will require to implement these plans? If so, please send the estimates for each agency.
- Have proper steps been taken to ensure that the actions taken by the federal agency employees do not violate the Hatch Act? If so, please provide a detailed description of the steps taken.
“We share the same goal of protecting every eligible citizen’s right to vote and that every lawful vote must count. However, we must follow the paradigm as established by the Constitution. States have the primary role in establishing election law with Congress playing a secondary role,” the lawmakers wrote. “As the federal government, we must exercise caution to ensure the actions we take are constitutional.”
They asked for a response by April 29. That date has come and gone with only silence from the White House.