A commissioner of a federal elections company not too long ago spoke at a secretive convention of conservative voting activists and Republican secretaries of state and congressional employees — a step that election specialists name extremely improper for an official charged with serving to states administer honest and unbiased elections.
U.S. Election Help Commissioner Donald Palmer, the previous chief election official in Virginia, was a panelist at a February convention organized by conservative teams working to impose new voting restrictions, together with the Heritage Basis.
Ten chief state election officers, in addition to elections employees from three further Republican-led states, attended the confab, which was described by one outstanding organizer as a “non-public, confidential assembly.”
The existence of the convention, together with its agenda and listing of attendees, was first reported by The Guardian U.S. and the investigative journalism web site Documented.
In a press release to States Newsroom, Palmer defended his look, calling it “an vital alternative to interact.” Palmer, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, is one among two Republican members of the four-member fee, which by regulation is split evenly between the 2 fundamental political events.
Although the EAC has no ethics code to information commissioners or employees, it’s one among a number of companies topic to heightened restrictions on political exercise through the Hatch Act — the U.S. regulation that restricts federal authorities staff from involvement in partisan politics.
Amber McReynolds, the previous elections director for the town of Denver and a outstanding election administration professional, mentioned commissioners ought to be barred from partisan occasions.
“With elections, the usual needs to be larger. The professionalism needs to be larger. The transparency needs to be larger,” mentioned McReynolds, who sits on the Board of Governors for the U.S. Postal Service. “[EAC commissioners] shouldn’t be collaborating in partisan actions.”
“I do assume it’s vital for them to interact,” added McReynolds, who’s politically unaffiliated. “However accomplish that with equal entry in thoughts and excessive ethics in thoughts, and positively not in non-public conferences.”
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, went additional, suggesting Palmer ought to step down.
“Election professionals throughout the spectrum are deeply upset that (a commissioner) of this federal company abused the belief we positioned in his capability to be skilled and unbiased in supporting election administration,” Benson mentioned in a press release. “His inappropriate and poor judgment calls into query his capability to proceed in his function sooner or later.”
“It’s the notion of showing at a extremely partisan group that isn’t clear,” mentioned Thom Reilly, the co-director of the Heart for an Unbiased and Sustainable Democracy at Arizona State College. “In a time when there’s a lot that’s problematic about how persons are viewing elections, I feel that is going so as to add to that. I feel it’s problematic.”
In a press release despatched through an EAC spokesperson, Palmer responded:
“The Heritage Secretary of State Assembly was an vital alternative to interact with chief election officers and key employees. It was a discussion board to debate the nationwide safety implications of voting system requirements and testing, federal laws and funding, and interstate voter registration information sharing, and I appreciated listening to from states and answering their questions.”
Trey Grayson, a Republican former secretary of state of Kentucky who served on the bipartisan Presidential Fee on Election Administration created by President Barack Obama, mentioned he doesn’t have an issue with Palmer’s look on the occasion.
“I don’t assume the principles of the EAC require him to step again from being an energetic Republican,” mentioned Grayson. “Don has in depth election administration expertise which he brings to the job as commissioner. He additionally maintains robust relationships with Republicans throughout the nation. That may assist him do his job higher. It’s potential to nonetheless be a partisan and do your job properly.”
In line with the occasion’s agenda, Palmer appeared on a panel entitled “Reasonable ERIC Fixes and Reforms,” alongside Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Logan Churchwell of the Public Curiosity Authorized Basis, whose founder and president, Christian Adams, served as moderator.
Palmer additionally appeared on an “Updates from the Hill” panel, alongside two Republican congressional staffers.
Ashcroft has been a key supporter of his state’s strict new voting regulation. He was one among a number of Republican chief election officers who not too long ago pulled his state out of the Digital Registration Data Heart, an interstate compact that helps states keep clear voter rolls and attain out to unregistered voters.
PILF has filed lawsuits geared toward forcing election officers to pare the rolls, and has sought to boost fears about unlawful voting by non-citizens, which specialists say is extraordinarily uncommon. Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer for Trump who labored with him to overturn the 2020 election, sits on PILF’s board of administrators.
The convention was organized partially by the Heritage Basis’s Hans von Spakovsky, who for many years has been outstanding within the conservative push to boost concern about unlawful voting so as to impose new voting restrictions.
Additionally showing on the occasion have been Ken Cuccinelli of the Election Transparency Initiative, Jason Snead of the Trustworthy Elections Challenge, and — giving the keynote speech — Ken Blackwell of the America First Coverage Institute, one other PILF board member. All three are leaders of the Trump-backed effort to tighten voting guidelines.
In an electronic mail to the employees of a Texas Republican state legislator who was set to look on the occasion, von Spakovsky wrote: “There isn’t a livestream. This isn’t a public occasion. It’s a non-public, confidential assembly of the secretaries. I’d quite you not ship out a press launch about it.” The e-mail was obtained by Documented.
Chief elections officers from Indiana, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia attended the convention.
Former DOJ lawyer
Palmer joined the EAC in 2019. A former lawyer within the voting part of the Justice Division’s civil rights division, he has served in senior election administration posts beneath Republican administrations in Florida and Virginia.
Palmer has tweeted about efforts so as to add antifa to the FBI’s listing of terror teams, and in opposition to gun management insurance policies. Antifa is shorthand for anti-fascists, far-left-leaning militant teams that violently resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
And this isn’t the primary time Palmer has appeared with activists working to limit voting. In 2020, Palmer and EAC Commissioner Christy McCormick, a fellow Republican and presently the company’s chair, went on a podcast hosted by Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, one other chief of the trouble to boost fears about unlawful voting.
On the podcast, Palmer questioned the safety of mail-in voting, which many states expanded in the course of the pandemic, and which has not been related to important fraud within the states that use it broadly.
“There have been research that say that vote-by-mail and absentee is simply merely extra susceptible to fraud as a result of an election official just isn’t confirming the identification of the voter,” Palmer mentioned. “It’s apparent whenever you take a look at stories of fraud that happen sometimes. Election officers and election workplaces must be vigilant to guarantee that elevated likelihood of fraud doesn’t happen on a scale that swings an election.”
Palmer additionally appeared on Mitchell’s podcast in 2021 — although in that look, he sought to knock down fears amongst right-wing voting activists in regards to the vulnerability of voting methods.
At his affirmation listening to in 2018, Palmer harassed his dedication to equity and impartiality.
“The rules of democracy and justice are better than the singular success of any political celebration or candidate who might win or lose a person race,” he declared.
What the EAC does
The EAC, which was created as a part of the Assist America Vote Act of 2002, units requirements for voting methods and helps states with different elements of election administration, together with distributing federal funds.
It additionally publishes broadly used voting information, and maintains the nationwide mail voter registration kind. Its 4 commissioner are appointed by the president based mostly on suggestions by congressional leaders, and confirmed by the Senate.
Although it typically flies beneath the radar, the fee can play an vital function in setting voting coverage. In 2016, its govt director labored to make it simpler for a number of Republican secretaries of state to require proof of citizenship from folks registering to vote, earlier than being blocked by a courtroom.
McReynolds mentioned a part of the issue is the construction of the EAC, whose commissioners have to be both Republicans or Democrats.
“Actually, Congress crafted a regulation that you need to be a D or an R, which leaves out 45 p.c of the nation and likewise a boatload of expertise because of the lack of a celebration label,” she mentioned, including that the U.S. ought to be taught from different superior democracies and guarantee nonpartisanship within the conduct of election administration.
“There’s independence whenever you look all over the world, with the election authorities,” McReynolds mentioned. “We’ve got to decouple partisan political celebration exercise from election administration, and guarantee nonpartisan guardrails are in place with excessive moral requirements for many who oversee elections.”