The Biden administration continues to shield from the public its plans for federal agencies to turn out the vote, citing “presidential communications and deliberative process privilege.”
Newly released emails, however, demonstrate the focus of the White House and various government departments on registering voters and getting them out.
In a response to a request by The Daily Signal under the Freedom of Information Act, the General Services Administration refused to provide its strategic plan for implementing President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14019.
Biden signed the order in March 2021 while saying he wanted to increase voter participation.
The GSA, the federal government’s chief procurement agency, also runs the Vote.gov website.
A spokesperson for the General Services Administration didn’t respond to The Daily Signal’s inquiries about this report.
Many congressional Republicans, as well as government watchdog groups, expressed concern about federal agencies’ engaging in partisan political activity in violation of laws such as the Hatch Act.
Biden administration agencies have ignored requests from over 50 members of Congress and from media outlets for basic information about implementation of Biden’s order on turning out voters.
In response to The Daily Signal’s request, GSA provided 12 pages of email correspondence that included a White House press release about the executive order.
“GSA, however, is withholding the agency’s strategic plan in full pursuant to FOIA Exemption 5, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5), including under the presidential communications and deliberative process privilege prongs of that exemption,” the agency’s response letter says.
Still, emails between White House officials and GSA officials, obtained by The Daily Signal through the FOIA request, make several references to the strategic plan or to “strategic planning” to boost voter turnout.
Biden’s Justice Department also has refused to release its strategic plan, citing “presidential privilege.” The Foundation for Government Accountability, a watchdog group, sued the Justice Department in federal court in Florida to obtain its strategic plan to register voters and get out the vote.
In an email dated Aug 17, 2021, White House aide Justin Levitt, a senior policy adviser for democracy and voting rights for the
Domestic Policy Council, wrote to a GSA employee named Raashi Parihar.
“Following up, still looking for a quick meeting to talk about status of Vote.gov efforts and executive order on promoting access to voting, specifically the strategic plan outlining the steps to modernize and improve the user experience of Vote.gov which I believe is due September 23,” Levitt wrote, referring to Sept. 23, 2021.
Biden appointed Levitt, a Loyola law school professor, to his White House post in April 2021 as Democrats sought to expand the federal government’s role in election administration.
Levitt had been a lawyer in the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He was highly critical of Georgia’s election law reforms, and previously worked for the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal advocacy group that opposes voter ID laws.
On Sept. 28, 2021, Levitt wrote about planning in an email to officials in GSA as well as to these Cabinet-level departments: Health and Human Services; Interior; Education; Veterans Affairs; and Housing and Urban Development.
“Thank you all once again for all of your efforts on strategic planning for EO 14019, Promoting Access to Voting—and for your quick review of summaries of the first public commitments from those plans,” Levitt wrote.
“As mentioned, we planned to release a fact sheet with compilations of those summaries today, including your agency’s good work. The final fact sheet is attached—and WH [White House] Communications plans to release it shortly,” Levitt wrote.
That day, the White House issued a press release outlining broad ways in which government agencies would respond to the president’s order, including the GSA.
“The General Services Administration will ensure Vote.gov is a user-friendly portal for Americans to find the information they need most to register and vote,” that White House press release said. “Available in over ten languages and in a format accessible for voters with disabilities, Vote.gov will make it easier for eligible users to register to vote or confirm their registration status. Agencies across the federal government will link to Vote.gov to encourage Americans to participate in the electoral process.”
The same press release in September 2021 talked about the strategic plans being prepared by agencies.
“The Executive Order called for each agency to submit to Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice a strategic plan outlining the ways that the agency can promote nonpartisan voter registration and voter participation,” it says. “These strategic plans are just the beginning of each agency’s commitments. In the weeks and months to come, agencies will further build out their capacity to get relevant information out to the public, help eligible voters better understand their opportunities for engagement, and facilitate participation in the electoral process.”
On Oct. 6, 2021, Justin Vail, special assistant to the president for democracy and civic participation on the Domestic Policy Council, emailed officials across numerous federal agencies.
“Thank you all once again for your efforts on strategic planning for EO 14019, Promoting Access to Voting—we enjoyed reviewing your submissions and were excited to share some of the anticipated agency actions with the public,” Vail wrote.
“We look forward to working with you to refine and implement the plans,” the Biden aide added. “To that end, we will host our next interagency meeting on Wednesday, October 20 at 1-2PM ET to discuss next steps. In the meantime, we will be reaching out to each agency to schedule one on one conversations, so please be on the lookout for those invitations.”
John Yuda, who works in information technology management for the General Services Administration, wrote an email to Suzanne Chapman of the Office of Management and Budget on May 19, 2021. OMB is based at the White House.
“The Vote.gov executive team is preparing to respond to the recent Executive Order: Promoting Access to Voting (Sec. 5. Modemizi.ng Vote.gov). We’d like to conduct interviews with stakeholders to document progress and validate expectations for vote.gov going forward,” Yuda wrote in the email to Chapman. “We would appreciate your input as we continue to create our strategic plan.”
Chapman’s response: “Sounds great. I’m looking forward to it.”
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