The Department of Justice has turned over documents on its voter outreach activities ahead of the midterm elections that have been heavily redacted. Thus is the concerning revelation from a Foundation for Government Accountability lawsuit against the DOJ.
“In April, FGA filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) in federal court after several federal executive agencies failed to respond to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain documents pertaining to President Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 14019. FGA originally requested these documents on July 30, 2021 and over a year later, not a single document was provided as required under the FOIA law,” FGA said in a press announcement.
“But on July 12, 2022, the Federal District Court ordered the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide us with all requested documents required under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) before the midterm election(s),” the FGA added.
However, those documents, relating to a Biden executive order to expand voter outreach activities, have come back heavily redacted, as The Federalist reported on Monday.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is concealing key documents related to President Joe Biden’s March 2021 order that directed executive agencies to develop plans for federal interference in state election administration,” staff writer Shawn Fleetwood wrote.
“On Sept. 8, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) was scheduled to receive a series of government records from the DOJ that detailed how the agency is complying with Executive Order 14019,” he added. “That order mandated all federal departments to ‘consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.’Among these included the DOJ’s 15-page ‘strategic plan’ on how the agency intends to comply with Biden’s executive order.”
“Instead of releasing the documents FGA requested pursuant to federal open records laws, however, the Biden DOJ released only a few records pertaining to the order, most of which were heavily redacted,’ Fleetwood added.
In one of the redacted emails, Special Assistant to the Deputy White House Counsels Devontae Freeland wrote to a redacted list of Biden officials about interim reporting on the executive order.
“Thank you for your work on the Promoting Access to Voting EO implementation plans,” Freeland wrote. “The interim reports, which are due this Tuesday 6/15, can be submitted by email [redacted] as a Word doc. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns.”
The Biden executive order was broad in scope about the activities the administration would be undertaking:
Sec. 3. Expanding Access to Voter Registration and Election Information. Agencies shall consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.
(a) The head of each agency shall evaluate ways in which the agency can, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, promote voter registration and voter participation. This effort shall include consideration of:
(i) ways to provide relevant information in the course of activities or services that directly engage with the public — including through agency materials, websites, online forms, social media platforms, and other points of public access — about how to register to vote, how to request a vote-by-mail ballot, and how to cast a ballot in upcoming elections;
(ii) ways to facilitate seamless transition from agencies’ websites directly to State online voter registration systems or appropriate Federal websites, such as Vote.gov;
(iii) ways to provide access to voter registration services and vote-by-mail ballot applications in the course of activities or services that directly engage with the public, including:
(A) distributing voter registration and vote-by-mail ballot application forms, and providing access to applicable State online systems for individuals who can take advantage of those systems;
(B) assisting applicants in completing voter registration and vote-by-mail ballot application forms in a manner consistent with all relevant State laws; and
(C) soliciting and facilitating approved, nonpartisan third-party organizations and State officials to provide voter registration services on agency premises;
(iv) ways to promote and expand access to multilingual voter registration and election information, and to promote equal participation in the electoral process for all eligible citizens of all backgrounds; and
(v) whether, consistent with applicable law, any identity documents issued by the agency to members of the public can be issued in a form that satisfies State voter identification laws.
(b) Within 200 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall submit to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy a strategic plan outlining the ways identified under this review that the agency can promote voter registration and voter participation.
“Among the missing documents was the DOJ’s 15-page strategic plan that detailed how the agency will help increase voter registration and participation,” the FGA noted on Sunday. “This document is a finished product, completed as part of Biden’s Executive Order. In July, a Federal District Court ruled the DOJ must turn over the documents to the FGA, and this post-decisional document clearly is required to be disclosed.”
“The American people deserve to know if the Biden Administration’s unprecedented action is fair and non-partisan, or if it is designed to help one political party over the other,” said Tarren Bragdon, FGA President and CEO. “Why are they ignoring public record requests for strategic plans on federal voter registration efforts? Why are they treating these documents like they are classified information dealing with nuclear weapons? Midterms are approaching, and the DOJ’s failure to disclose information raises troubling issues. They need to reveal these public documents to keep our elections fair.”
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