A group of Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent a letter to the Biden administration criticizing a 2021 executive order issued by President Joe Biden that ordered federal agencies to protect and support voting rights, particularly in Black communities.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) sent the letter, co-signed by 23 Republicans, to the Biden administration on Nov. 28, according to a report from Fox News. The senators have not posted a copy of the letter online, and Fox identified the story as a “first on Fox” exclusive.
“Federal agencies should be focused on their defined missions in a nonpartisan manner, not using taxpayer funds for voter mobilization efforts with potentially partisan impacts,” Fox said the letter reads. “In other words, it’s not the job of the federal government to drive voter turnout. Reviewing these agency plans is crucial to determining whether this order has or may lead to the improper use of federal resources.”
The letter goes on to say that using funds appropriated by Congress for a purpose different from their authorized use would be a violation of the federal Antideficiency Act. The law prohibits agencies from using funds for activities beyond the parameters laid out by Congress when it approves federal spending.
The senators say, “Violating this statute carries administrative and potential criminal penalties, highlighting the need for transparency.” The excerpts of the letter featured by Fox do not contain evidence that the administration has violated any laws.
The letter demands details from executive agencies on their strategies to comply with Biden’s March 2021 executive order.
“The right to vote is the foundation of American democracy,” Biden said in the executive order. “Free and fair elections that reflect the will of the American people must be protected and defended.” He specifically took note of historic efforts to block Black voters’ access to the ballot across many decades of U.S. history.
“For generations, Black voters and other voters of color have faced discriminatory policies and other obstacles that disproportionally affect their communities,” Biden wrote. “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.”
Citing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists supported, Biden ordered federal agencies to come up with strategies to expand opportunities for voter registration and to give citizens more access to information about the electoral process.
The order told federal agencies to begin several processes: to distribute voter registration and vote-by-mail forms, assist citizens in filling out the forms, enlist nonpartisan organizations to provide voter registration services on agency property, and promote and expand multilingual voter registration and election information.
In a March post to its website, the American Civil Liberties Union described Biden’s order as “visionary” and recognized the progress agencies have already made in expanding access to voter registration since the order was issued.
An accompanying March 2023 report from the ACLU and a coalition of civil rights organizations estimated, “If these agencies integrate a high-quality voter registration opportunity for the people they serve, as recommended in this report, they could collectively generate an additional 3.5 million voter registration applications per year.”
The Republican senators’ complaint about Biden’s order follows years of efforts by the Republican Party and the conservative movement to restrict voting rights, with a particular emphasis on suppressing the votes of ethnic minorities who historically have voted for Democratic candidates.
The Supreme Court in June ruled that congressional maps drawn by Alabama’s Republican-led Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act because they were intended to artificially dilute the influence of the state’s Black population.
Most of the court’s conservative justices opposed the decision, except for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted with liberal Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan in the majority 5-4 decision.
During the 2020 election, the campaign of then-President Donald Trump singled out cities with large Black populations and attempted to disqualify votes in legal challenges in those cities. Biden had overwhelmingly won the election in those locations, and Trump’s challenges were ultimately unsuccessful.
Trump also tried to get himself illegally reinstalled as president following his loss to Biden and encouraged his supporters to go to the U.S. Capitol in support of his efforts, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by his supporters on the Capitol. The House of Representatives later voted to impeach Trump on charges related to his actions.
In addition to his executive order, Biden, the likely Democratic nominee, has called on Congress to pass bills that would restore voting rights protections that the Supreme Court removed in 2013.“We know that we must get the votes in Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act,” Biden said in remarks on March 5 in Selma, Alabama, in commemoration of the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday voting rights protest. “My message to you is this: We see you. We’re fighting to make sure no one is left behind. This is a time of choosing, and we need everybody engaged. We know history does not look kindly on those who deny the march across the bridge to redeem the soul of America.”