In 2020, as state and local officials contended with running elections during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, Americans relied on absentee and early voting like never before, leading to record-high turnout. But while experts later called it the “most secure” election in U.S. history, activists and groups dedicated to restricting voting access seized on the wider availability of mail-in voting to advance lies about voter fraud.
American Oversight recently obtained emails revealing that in the months before and after the election, officials at the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency tasked with helping states administer secure elections, communicated with such groups and individuals, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and an “Election Law Working Group” convened by the Heritage Foundation.
The communications include a September 2020 email from Michael Bowman, the president of ALEC Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of ALEC, a network that supplies conservative state legislators with model legislation and that has a history of promoting restrictive voting measures. In 2019, ALEC created a “process working group” made up of conservative legislators and attorneys that focused on election and redistricting issues. Since the 2020 election, more than 100 Republican politicians connected to ALEC have sponsored or co-sponsored bills designed to restrict voting access, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
In the September 2020 email, Bowman asked EAC Commissioner Christy McCormick and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, a prominent voting-restriction advocate, for information about who at the Republican National Committee was working on election fraud. He also asked about how voters should report suspicious activity and who would investigate. Von Spakovsky responded, “Don’t know but I would ask Justin Riemer [RNC chief counsel] about it – he should know.”
In 2017, McCormick and von Spakovsky — along with former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and J. Christian Adams, the president of voting-restriction group Public Interest Legal Foundation — had been appointed to President Trump’s voter-fraud commission, which was disbanded after less than a year. American Oversight represented commission member and Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap in his lawsuit seeking records related to the commission’s work; documents released revealed that the commission had found no widespread fraud. The records also included an email from McCormick in which she tried to add to the commission a Justice Department statistician whom she described as “conservative (and Christian too).” That statistician, Benjamin Overholt, was in August 2020 placed at the Census Bureau as the deputy director for data.
The records also include an email sent a month after the 2020 election to members of an “Election Law Working Group” that appears to have been organized by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The organization, along with its political arm, Heritage Action for America, has worked with state lawmakers and other groups like ALEC to push anti-voting legislation; in May, Mother Jones reported on a leaked video obtained by the watchdog group Documented in which Heritage Action’s executive director boasted to funders about the organization’s role in crafting Georgia’s harsh new voter-suppression law.
The email, sent on Dec. 3 by a Heritage Foundation employee, contained an article written by J. Christian Adams regarding a left-wing “scheme” to defeat Trump. Among the members of this working group were a number of representatives of ALEC, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican State Leadership Committee, and various conservative legal groups. Also appearing on the list is Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who helped lead ALEC’s working group and in early January participated in the infamous phone call in which President Trump urged Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” evidence that would overturn the state’s election results.
Multiple EAC officials also received the email, including McCormick and Don Palmer. Brian Newby, the former executive director of the EAC, who had reportedly blocked employees’ work on election security issues also received the email. Adam Laxalt, the former attorney general of Nevada, and Leslie Rutledge, the current attorney general of Arkansas, are also included.
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