Leftwing Activists Talk Prisoners, Noncitizen at White House Voting Session

Leftwing Activists Talk Prisoners, Noncitizen at White House Voting Session

White House officials met with liberal activists to discuss boosting voting among prisoners and immigrants just four months after President Joe Biden signed an executive order on turning out the vote, newly released records show. 

On July 12, 2021, White House officials held a “listening session” that included dozens of organizations, many known for turning out Democrat voters. Justin Levitt, who was the White House senior policy advisor for democracy and voting rights at the time, kicked off the event along with Jesselyn McCurdy of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights

Keeda Haynes, legal adviser with the Sentencing Project, a legal assistance and training organization for prisoners, said the administration should assist “eligible voters who are incarcerated have been left out of voting,” according to notes of the meeting. Haynes added, “Felony disenfranchisement is voter suppression.”

The records were obtained from the Justice Department by The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project through the Freedom of Information Act. (The Heritage Foundation founded The Daily Signal.)

That session with White House and other Biden administration officials included staffers from more than four dozen left-leaning groups including the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Democracy Fund, the Al Sharpton-founded National Action Network, the George Soros-backed Open Society Policy Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. But only a few of the groups were participants in the meeting. Participants were sent a Zoom link. 

The meeting and agenda were first discovered by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a government watchdog group in 2022. What’s new from the recently released batch of documents are details about what was said in the meeting, as well as Justice Department communications leading up to the conference.

The records also show the email correspondence between the White House and the Justice Department for the weeks leading to the meeting. The documents showed that voting for certain incarcerated individuals was a priority. 

Less than a month after Biden signed the order, then-associate White House counsel Larry Schwartztol emailed associate deputy attorney general Myesha Braden on April 1, 2021. 

Schwartztol said the White House counsel’s office is working with the Domestic Policy Council and wrote about helping people in custody or under the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service to vote. 

“Section 9 of the [executive order] directs the [attorney general] to take various steps to facilitate voter registration and voting for people in [Bureau of Prisons] and [U.S. Marshals Service] custody and to coordinate with the probation and pretrial services on providing similar resources and assistance to people under supervision,” Schwartztol wrote.  

The Daily Signal previously reported that the Bureau of Prisons partnered with left-leaning groups such as the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee to boost voting among eligible citizens who were incarcerated while awaiting trial or other circumstances, or in restoring their voting rights after serving their sentence.

At the July 2021 meeting with White House officials and liberal groups, Nik Youngsmith, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, spoke to the gathering about “immigrants and noncitizens.”

The public record showed Youngsmith wanted to be cautious.

“We support registration efforts. We also want to make sure they are done in a careful way,” the meeting notes paraphrase Youngsmith as saying. “All fed employees must be well trained in this. Need to trust people are acting in bounds of the law. Especially when there are language issues. Federal employees should know who should be properly registered and not. Don’t want someone to face charges for registering on bad info.”

The Washington Examiner first reported on the Justice Department documents obtained by the Oversight Project. 

Jose Morales, the deputy director of Fair Fight Action, an anti-voter ID group founded by twice-losing Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, also spoke. Morales called for allowing federal employees to take the day off to vote. He also complained there are “based on experiences last year and this year, there are many new ID requirements” according to the Justice Department notes about the session. 

Fair Fight didn’t get everything it wanted from Biden on federal employee voting. 

While the administration did not give federal employees a whole day off to vote, The Daily Signal previously reported the Office of Personnel Management adopted a policy to give four hours of leave to federal employees to vote and volunteer to be election workers.

Two staffers from the ACLU–Sarah Brannon and Ceridwen Cherry–told the gathering that the HealthCare.gov website, better known as the Obamacare exchanges, reaches 20 million people per year and should be used for signing up voters. 

Demos, a liberal think tank that drafted much of the executive order after Biden was elected but before his inauguration, was also part of the gathering. 

Laura Williamson, then associate director of Demos, said the Department of Housing and Urban Development should register voters at public housing units. It also called for the Fair Housing Administration to engage in voter registration when making loans to buy homes. 

The Daily Signal first reported that under the executive order, HUD authorized targeting votes at public housing units. 

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.