Editorials, Opinion

Exec order isn’t an election takeover

The way West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner talks about President Biden’s Executive Order No. 14019, you would think the executive branch was trying to wrest control of elections from the states and impose a federalized system. We read the executive order in question and find ourselves wondering if Warner — and the eight other secretaries of state who filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to block it — read the same document we did.

As far as we can tell, all the order does is instruct executive branch agencies to help people understand when, where and how to vote, all in accordance to “applicable laws,” which we understand to mean applicable state voting laws. In fact, the language specifically says for agencies to partner with “State, local, Tribal and territorial election officials.”

There are several main points to the executive order. The first part focuses on education and facilitating voters’ access to information and resources, including “about how to register to vote, how to request a vote-by-mail ballot, and how to cast a ballot in upcoming elections.” The order also directs federal agencies to make sure any election information on their websites links to state election websites or the federal site vote.gov. (Vote.gov, in turn, will also help you navigate to your state’s election website.) There are instructions for making sure websites are easily navigable, including for those with disabilities or who have trouble with English.

The next part issues guidance for federal agencies to partner with state and local governments to host voter registration drives, absentee ballot application drives for those eligible or election information meetings on agency premises. It specifies that if local government officials ask to use the agency’s property for pre-election activities, the agency can’t really say no (with some exceptions). There are later instructions for facilitating absentee voting for armed forces or civil service members living overseas.

What might be the coolest part (for civic engagement enthusiasts such as ourselves) is the order’s instructions for federal agencies to make it easier for federal employees to get time off to go early vote or work as a poll worker or poll observer.

Finally, the order instructs agencies to make sure incarcerated individuals in federal custody, recently released from custody or on probation know how, when and if they are able to vote, as well as how to register to vote, when they can vote and how to get reliable election information. For example, in Maine and Vermont, felons retain their right to vote while in custody, whereas in West Virginia, the right to vote is only restored after the completion of the convict’s sentence. Because state laws vary, some convicts become confused about whether or not they can vote and if they can, when they become eligible again.

We don’t see anything in this order that would constitute a federal usurpation of state elections. And we can’t understand why Warner and others would attack a measure meant to help states increase voter registration and turnout. Indeed, Warner has gone out of his way to condemn absentee or mail-in voting, in particular, despite the fact it’s most used by elderly voters — the same ones most likely to vote Republican. The logic baffles us. The only explanation is that the Republican Party has made opposing Biden the center of its platform, and Warner will continue to follow the party’s lead, even if it hurts his constituents.