Federal agencies are lagging behind in implementing President Joe Biden’s executive order (EO) aimed at boosting voter access, a report has found, as worries remain about politicizing federal agencies.
On March 7, 2021, President Joe Biden signed executive order 14019 that sought to “leverage the resources of the federal government to increase access to voter registration services and information about voting,” according to a White House statement. At the time, the move came under criticism due to provisions for boosting voter access to criminals as well as concerns regarding the politicization of the federal workforce. On March 3, 2023, a coalition of organizations issued a report titled “Strengthening Democracy” which assessed how 10 federal agencies have responded to the order so far.
“As of today, agencies are far from meeting that potential. While a few agencies have made noteworthy progress, especially toward improving access to voter registration,” the report said.
“Most have either made minimal progress on their initial strong commitments or have left important opportunities on the table. Our findings are clear: most federal agencies have room for improvement in their implementation of the Voting Access EO.”
The Department of the Interior, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the Department of Treasury were identified as three federal agencies that are on the “right track”—they’re in the process of completing implementation of commitments made in line with the aims of the executive order.
The Department of Health and Human Services, General Services Administration, the U.S. Marshals Services, and the Bureau of Prisons “still have work to do” while the Indian Health Services, the Department of Education, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are “falling behind,” the report stated.
“We estimate that, 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.”
Biden’s executive order included provisions that aimed to use federal agencies to promote voter registration, providing voter registration and vote-by-mail applications, promoting voter registration among prisoners, and using third-party organizations to register voters at federal agencies, among others.
The most concerning issue, according to some of the critics of the EO, is the political impact of the order. In August 2022, Citizens United advocacy filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the Department of Justice for records relating to Biden’s executive order.
Citizens United insisted that the EO “politicizes the federal workforce and is a blatant abuse of power that needs much more transparency.”
The same month, 15 secretaries of state from across the nation released a letter calling on Biden to rescind EO 14019 as it allegedly inserts the president’s political appointees into the election process, which is an unlawful action.
“Executive Order 14019 requires federal agencies to develop plans to register and mobilize voters and submit these plans to the president’s Domestic Policy Advisor, Susan Rice,” the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) said in an Aug. 4 press release.
“The letter rightly condemns this order as unconstitutional under the Constitution’s ‘Times, Places and Manner of Elections’ clause, which reserves the power of administering and running state elections explicitly to state legislatures.”
Earlier in July, Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) introduced the Promoting Free and Fair Elections Act, which sought to shut down Biden’s EO.
“Biden’s executive order empowering every federal agency to engage in electioneering on the taxpayers’ dime raises serious ethical and legal concerns,” Budd said, according to a July 21 press release.
“This sweeping directive is inherently partisan and directed primarily at groups expected to vote for one party instead over another,” he added.