House Republicans oppose Biden efforts to expand voting rights

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Republicans who say they're worried about constitutionality continue to block federal voting rights legislation.

On Tuesday, a group of House Republicans who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election sent a letter to the Biden administration in which they raised concerns about efforts to have federal agencies assist with voter registration, claiming that their concern was a "lack of constitutional and statutory authority for federal agencies to engage in any activity beyond its stated mission."

The letter, provided to the conservative Fox News network, was signed by eight members of the House, including Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Virginia Foxx (R-VA), and Andy Harris (R-MD).

Those four members in January 2021 voted in favor of rejecting millions of votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. The effort did not succeed, and President Joe Biden's win over former President Donald Trump was certified by Congress.

In the letter, addressed to Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the House members complain that, in response to an executive order signed by Biden in March 2021, multiple federal agencies are making efforts to encourage voter registration and participation.

Claiming they're concerned about issues of constitutionality, they write:

Our concerns with this Executive Order focus on the following sections: (1) Directing federal agencies to assist states with voter registration if a state requests assistance; (2) Expanding the use of vote.gov and suggesting agencies add a link to it on their websites; and (3) Proposing ways to increase federally funded government employee participation in the voting process. We are concerned that these directives go beyond the scope of each agency's authorizing statute and mission.

The Republicans also raise the issue of the Department of Agriculture playing a role in encouraging voter registration through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), describing it as playing a part in the "Biden Administration's voter registration scheme."

Biden signed an "Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting" on March 7, 2021, instructing agencies to "consider ways to expand citizens' opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process."

In setting for the need for the order, the text specifically notes obstacles faced by Black voters in the past and today and the need for language assistance, disability access, and approaches to challenges faced by voters in the military.

In September, over a dozen agencies announced the steps they would adopt to comply with Biden's order.

According to a fact sheet released by the White House on Sept. 28, for example, "The Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service will encourage the provision of nonpartisan voter information through its borrowers and guaranteed lenders, who interface with thousands of residents in the process of changing their voting address every year," as well as through Rural Development field offices across the country.

Among other agencies, the document notes:

The Department of Defense will support a comprehensive approach to information and voting awareness for servicemembers and civilian personnel voting at home, in addition to the structure currently assisting members of the military stationed away from home and citizens overseas. The Department will develop materials in additional languages and send nonpartisan information at regular intervals before federal elections to ensure that eligible servicemembers and their families — particularly first-time voters — have opportunities to register and vote if they wish.

Biden's directive followed efforts in multiple state legislatures under Republican control to pass legislation that curtails access to voting.

In one of the most prominent examples, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia on March 25, 2021, signed into law a voter suppression bill over the objections of local activists and businesses. The legislation was pushed through just a few months after Biden defeated Trump in the state's presidential election, the first time a Democrat had won in Georgia since 1992.

Republicans have repeatedly opposed efforts to protect voting rights. They attacked Biden in January when he spoke in support of passing federal voting rights legislation and have opposed the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in both the House and the Senate.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.