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The Department of Justice (DOJ) is claiming a 15-page plan to promote voting access and other election-related initiatives cannot be released to the public because of “presidential communications privileges.”
The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division last week denied a government watchdog’s request to release the department’s “Strategic Plan” on “Promoting Access to Voting.” The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) submitted a public records request, known as a FOIA, for the document last year after President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing every federal department to draft a plan to promote voter registration and participation as well as combat election misinformation.
The FGA followed up its FOIA request with a lawsuit on April 20th after months of silence from the DOJ, according to The Washington Examiner. A district court ordered the DOJ to turn over the requested records by September 8.
In a letter sent Thursday to FGA, Civil Rights Division chief Kilian Kagle said that the DOJ’s 15-page voter access plan is protected from FOIA requests under Exemption 5 of the Freedom of Information Act. According to Kagle, the exemption “pertains to certain inter- and intra-agency records protected by civil discovery privileges, in this instance the deliberative process and presidential communications privileges.”
The DOJ did turn over some documents largely comprised of heavily-redacted emails between government staffers. FGA president and CEO Tarren Bragdon said the administration’s efforts to keep the strategic plan out of the public eye is concerning.
“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,” Bragdon, said in a statement. “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.”
Biden signed Executive Order 14019 on March 7, 2021, while Democratic attempts to pass sweeping changes to the U.S. election system were stalling in Congress. Biden and top Democrats in Congress failed to muster the support to pass either the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“Free and fair elections that reflect the will of the American people must be protected and defended. But many Americans, especially people of color, confront significant obstacles to exercising that fundamental right. These obstacles include difficulties with voter registration, lack of election information, and barriers to access at polling places,” Biden’s executive order says.
With midterms approaching, election reforms have again become a priority for the White House. Vice President Kamala Harris said in an appearance on NBC over the weekend that “everything is on the line in these elections in just less than two months.” She reiterated Biden’s support for killing the Senate’s filibuster rules for Democratic priorities.
“Because what is happening in our country … they are passing laws making it more difficult for people to vote,” Harris said, referring to GOP-backed election integrity measures passed across numerous states.