Well before President Joe Biden’s executive order pushing federal agencies to meddle in elections, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly worked with the group that orchestrated the president’s strategy.
Kelly, a Democrat, began negotiating a deal in 2019 with New York-based liberal advocacy group Demos. A year later, in December 2020, Devos would draft the parameters of Biden’s Executive Order 14019, which mandated get-out-the-vote activities within government agencies without the need for congressional approval.
Before the 2020 presidential election, social service agencies in Kansas helped push 277,000 voter registration forms to targeted groups.
Besides Demos, Kansas struck an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, the liberal legal organization, and the Kansas-based Loud Light, which promotes voting by younger Ameticans.
“The real point is the governor entered into an election law agreement without the consent of the Legislature,” Kansas state Rep. Pat Proctor, a Republican who chairs the House Elections Committee, told The Daily Signal. “The idea that the governor can sit in a smoke-filled room and unilaterally commit the state to an election agreement is not constitutional.”
The Kansas Legislature is the first one in the country to review the implementation of Biden’s executive order.
Two key parts of Biden’s order that Demos advocated were turning federal agencies into voter registration operations and working with private organizations to increase voter turnout, as detailed in my book, “The Myth of Voter Suppression.”
Although most federal agencies have been tight-lipped about how the Biden administration is implementing the order, in June a spokesperson for the Indian Health Service told The Daily Signal that it was working with Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union, the liberal legal group, to increase voter participation.
Proctor, the Kansas lawmaker, said he opposes Biden’s executive order, which involves government recruitment of outside organizations to boost voter registration and turnout.
“Legislatures are supposed to determine how elections are run, not a bunch of left-wing organizations,” Proctor said.
Without legislative approval, Kelly locked Kansas into an agreement with three liberal groups until June 30, 2025.
Under it, the Kansas Department for Children and Families as well as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment—which oversee food stamps, Medicaid, and other welfare programs—incorporated voter registration information into benefits material and provided related information and applications at agency offices, on agencies’ websites, and as part of online application portals.
Before a final agreement was hammered out in 2021, these two state agencies mailed out 277,000 voter registration forms in 2020, according to the governor’s office.
Republican incumbent Donald Trump easily carried Kansas over Biden in 2020, despite losing the presidential election.
Previous governors had allowed Kansas to fall out of compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the Motor Voter Law, said Davis Hammet, president and founder of Loud Light.
“Before pursuing legal action, we reached out to newly elected Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration to see if they were willing to meet and collaborate on a plan to bring Kansas into compliance with federal law and remedy past noncompliance,” Hammet told The Daily Signal in a written statement.
“They agreed and after two years (of mostly delays caused by the pandemic) we all signed a memorandum of understanding regarding Kansas coming into compliance with federal law,” he said.
“We have never received government funding,” Hammet said about Biden’s executive order on elections, and his group is “not a designated third-party organization.”
Kelly’s office did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Daily Signal, nor did Demos and the ACLU of Kansas.
However, copies of the agreement didn’t become available until the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability first reported on the deal in summer 2022. Numerous other organizations made public records requests to obtain the Kansas agreement, according to the foundation.
“This is the first time a state legislature has looked into the Biden election executive order,” Stewart Whitson, legal director for the Foundation for Government Accountability, told The Daily Signal. “Gov. Kelly has had a long relationship with Demos that predates the Biden order.”
Whitson said the terms of the Kansas agreement were not requirements of the federal voter registration law.
“State welfare agencies are required to make voter registration forms available, they are not required to send out mass mailings as part of a get-out-the-vote campaign,” Whitson said. “The governor bound Kansas to a legal agreement without telling the Legislature.”
Last year, the Kansas Legislature overrode Kelly’s veto to pass a bill preventing either the governor or secretary of state from entering into a consent decree with private organizations on state election rules without legislative approval.
The Legislature is preparing to amend state law to clarify that it prohibits the governor or secretary of state from entering such an election agreement lawsuit, Proctor said.
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