Indiana elections chief directs 100+ federal agencies to halt alleged ‘unauthorized involvement’

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales greets election official Vicky Jones as he tours the vote center inside NexusPark during the primary election in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, May, 2, 2023. Secretary Morales visited vote centers in multiple counties around Indiana to thank election workers for their hard work.

By: | Indiana Capital Chronicle

For The Republic

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales’ office warned more than 120 federal agencies operating in Indiana against providing voter registration services described in a three-year-old presidential executive order without state approval.

“This letter from my office is in response to the broad executive order from President (Joe) Biden directing federal agencies to engage in election activity,” Morales said Tuesday on his personal X account.

“States know best when it comes to our elections,” he continued. “We don’t need federal government overreach to run safe, secure elections!”

Morales’ office didn’t immediately provide specific examples of law-breaking.

A pandemic-era order, and a letter

Biden’s spring 2021 order, titled “Promoting access to voting,” mandates federal agencies to “consider ways” to encourage citizen participation in the electoral process.

He ordered agency heads to evaluate options — “consistent with applicable law” — like public information campaigns, agency website links to state and federal voter registration resources, and “direct engagement.” That could include distributing voter registration and mail-in ballot application forms, helping citizens complete the forms, or having nonpartisan third parties provide those services.

In his June 28 letter, Morales wrote, “It has been brought to my attention that President Biden’s federal executive order …. effectively orders all federal executive departments and agencies to ‘expand access to voter registration.’”

It was sent to more than 120 federal entities, a spokeswoman said.

Morales noted that, under longstanding law, a state must ask an agency to be a designated “voter registration agency” in order for the agency to conduct voter registration activities.

And, he continued, “To my knowledge, your agency is not a designated voter registration agency.” He asked agency recipients to report any directives they received and actions they’ve taken to implement the order within 10 days of receipt.

“If your agency has been distributing voter registration forms or assisting the public with voter registration or absentee voting forms, you are requested to discontinue such action immediately, as the unauthorized conduct of such activity is likely violative of Indiana and federal law,” Morales wrote.

Biden’s order, however, required agencies to agree to the state’s request, “to the greatest extent practicable and consistent with applicable law.” If the agency were to decline, they’d have to submit a written explanation of the decision.

The order also required heads of agencies that directly engage with the public to “formally notify” states in which they operate that they would agree to being a designated voter registration agency.

Part of a trend

Morale’s letter is the latest rejection of Biden’s order.

Conservative activists and politicians across the country, including political action committees and a Republican-led House committee, have targeted the order in recent months, Politico has reported.

Morales in May joined eight fellow Republican secretaries of state in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take on a case challenging the order. The court said it wouldn’t do so by the end of June, and won’t consider taking it up until the fall.

But Morales isn’t the first from Indiana to push back against the order.

Former Secretary of State Holli Sullivan — who Morales beat out for the position — was among 15 GOP secretaries of state to sign onto a 2022 letter to Biden asking him to rescind the order.

Morales, meanwhile, concluded his letter by listing his office’s voter registration efforts.

“Notwithstanding my enthusiasm for registering eligible voters, the state of Indiana has a statutory framework for voter registration and assistance activity that must be respected,” he wrote.

Several conservative interest groups praised Morales’ move.

“By signing (the order), President Biden is abusing the power of the federal government in a desperate attempt to boost his sinking campaign. Thankfully, Hoosiers are having none of it,” Catherine Gunsalus, Heritage Action’s director of state advocacy, said in a news release Tuesday. The group is a sister to conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

“Secretary Morales should be applauded for protecting Indiana from undue federal overreach and directing agencies in his state to refuse to go along with Biden’s scheme,” she added. “As November quickly approaches, Heritage Action urges states across the country to follow Indiana’s lead and safeguard their elections from federal overreach.”

Heritage Action’s watchdog arm, The Oversight Project, sent a memo dated May 15 to state officials describing Biden’s order as “federally funded and partisan get-out-the vote election interference.” It suggested ways states could “fight back.”

“We are thrilled that Secretary of State Morales is taking up our recommendation to kick the Feds out of Indiana’s elections,” Mike Howell, The Oversight Project’s executive director, said in the news release. “The people of Indiana should decide their own elections. Biden’s illegal taxpayer funded scheme to have government agencies run the get-out-the-vote operation for his campaign is an egregious abuse of power.”

— The Indiana Capital Chronicle covers state government and the state legislature. For more, visit