The Push for Permanent Vote-by-Mail
Amber McReynolds attends the 2022 FairVote Awards at City Winery on April 11, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for FairVote)
Leftists fell in love with all-mail elections in 2020. Now they want to make vote-by-mail permanent.
Transforming our country’s elections into a mail-in fiasco is a big step toward handing power over elections from the states to the federal government, empowering professional activists, inviting fraud, and damaging America’s constitutional system. It places the integrity of the republic in the hands of the U.S. Postal Service, the government agency that routinely delivers your neighbor’s mail to your house. And it promises to undermine public trust in electoral outcomes from now until doomsday, which could make the problems of the 2020 election routine.
I’ve documented progressives’ relentless effort to federalize elections, from the $400-million flood of private cash Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sent to elections officials in 2020 to the $80 million “dark money” campaign for permanent vote-by-mail ahead of the 2022 and 2024 elections. That reporting builds on Capital Research Center’s year-and-a-half long investigation into the role of “Zuck bucks” in battleground states and our discovery that they targeted areas rich with Democratic votes, like Philadelphia and Atlanta.
At the heart of that misadventure are the Center for Tech and Civic Life, Arabella Advisors’ $1.7 billion activist empire, and the National Vote at Home Institute. But Americans should be familiar with the true face of vote-by-mail: Amber McReynolds.
She’s often labeled a reform-minded “independent” and is listed on the website of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers and in Governing Magazine’s 2018 Top Public Officials of the Year. In interview after gushing interview with left-leaning outlets, she’s touted as a good-government advocate uninterested in petty partisan goals.
But make no mistake: Amber McReynolds is a product of Activism, Inc.
McReynolds started her career registering voters in Iowa—a key primary state—in the 2004 election with the New Voters Project, part of a multi-million-dollar activist nexus called the Public Interest Network, whose oldest elements—the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs)—started in the 1970s under legendary community organizer Ralph Nader.
If you’ve ever been solicited on the street for a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union or Sierra Club by a “clipboard kid,” you’ve probably had a run-in with these guys, who are famous for generating new liberal activists—and a president. As Barack Obama put it in 2004, “I used to be a PIRG guy. You guys trained me well.”
Revealingly, the network lauds McReynolds alongside two other notable progressive alumni: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and eco-activist-turned-Colorado State Sen. Faith Winter.
In 2005, McReynolds was hired by the Denver Elections Commission. In 2011, she became the agency’s director. A year later, the city’s Democratic mayor awarded her with the “rising star” award for overseeing the creation of Denver’s ballot-tracking and electronic petition-gathering software (Ballot TRACE). A year after that, in 2013, McReynolds successfully pushed for Colorado’s adoption of all-mail voting and election-day registration, reportedly downplaying the threat of voter fraud in her testimony before the state legislature by claiming ignorance of the concept: “I’m not sure, to be honest, what is an illegal vote…. What does that mean?”
McReynolds was key to many of the last-minute voting-law changes in Pennsylvania ahead of the 2020 election, which conservatives criticized as unconstitutional and vulnerable to fraud. She’s cited extensively in an amicus briefing filed by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia-based Black Political Empowerment Project, and the Latino-focused Make the Road PA—all left-wing get-out-the-vote groups—supporting the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s lawsuit against Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, demanding the state adopt drop boxes and “alternatives to in-person voting.”
McReynolds’ sworn testimony (paid for at a rate of $225 per hour) notes that “ballot drop-boxes can be an important component of implementing expanded mail-in voting,” “do not create an increased opportunity for fraud,” and “are generally more secure than…post office boxes.” She also supports the adoption of “text-to-cure,” a system adopted in 2020 in Colorado wherein voters are invited to email, fax, or send a text message to “cure” mistakes in their ballots (e.g., a missing signature) instead of sending an affidavit.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately ruled in the Democratic Party’s favor, determining that county elections boards may accept mail-in ballots in “unmanned drop-boxes” and extending the deadline for mail-in and absentee ballots by three days—even for ballots missing a postmark.
All of these controversial factors later featured prominently in the 2020 election in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, thanks to funding from Mark Zuckerberg and the Center for Tech and Civic Life.
Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state Senate banned both private funding for elections and drop-boxes in April 2022; the bill is expected to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and drop boxes were still in place for the state’s June primary. In Wisconsin, the state supreme court ruled drop boxes were illegal in February 2022 after 570 were used in 66 of the state’s 72 counties between 2020 and early 2021.
Interestingly, McReynolds also oversaw Denver’s adoption of the now-controversial Dominion Voting Systems in May 2015, lauding the system in a presentation before election officials (only a grainy image of her presentation exists). The liberal Brennan Center for Justice profiled Denver’s adoption of Dominion in a 2015 case study, noting that it was designed to promote vote-by-mail given that 95 percent of Denver voters cast their ballot by mail under the state’s all-mail system. McReynolds later defended Dominion against claims of ballot fraud days after the 2020 election, tweeting:
No, Dominion voting machines did not cause widespread voting problems. Don’t be fooled by conspiracies & disinformation. Instead rely on trusted sources of information like election officials.
In a Denver Post op-ed in 2017, McReynolds in her capacity as Denver’s director of elections accused President Donald Trump’s new Commission on Election Integrity of “frightening away Denver voters” and leading voters to withdraw their registration due to its supposed partisanship (it was bipartisan) and unclear mission. The commission was formed to investigate “improper voter registrations,” “voter suppression,” and fraud. In late 2017, the left-wing group United to Protect Democracy sued the commission for attempting to gather voter information from the states. McReynolds provided sworn testimony alleging that the commission had caused Denver voter registration withdrawals to surge.
Vote At Home in 2020
In 2018, McReynolds left Denver to lead the National Vote at Home Institute and Coalition, a pair of tiny nonprofits in Washington, D.C., formed the year prior to promote vote-by-mail everywhere.
Like all 501(c) nonprofits, both Vote at Home groups are officially nonpartisan, per IRS tax exempt rules. Yet they were created with start-up funding from the liberal National Association of Letter Carriers (the postal workers’ union), which hosted the group’s kick-off event at its union headquarters in Washington. The event was attended by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon (a Democrat elected in the country’s first-ever all-mail federal election), and Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling, who later joined the board of Vote at Home. At the event, Keisling illustrated his vision of voting, with my emphasis:
Imagine a state where voters never have to show a photo ID; wait in voting lines; leave home or work early to get to their designated polling place; or worry about bad weather, traffic jams, finding parking or public transportation, or arranging childcare.
AVR’s [automatic voter registration] underlying policy premise is identical to vote-at home’s; if the government knows you’re a citizen, you become a registered voter. [Emphasis added.]
Brian Renfroe, executive vice president of the postal workers’ union, leads Vote at Home’s board of directors. Also on the board is Emily Persaud-Zamora, director of the Nevada affiliate of the liberal get-out-the-vote group State Voices, and 2018 Democratic Maryland gubernatorial candidate and former NAACP president Ben Jealous, who now heads the far-left judicial activist group People for the American Way, infamous for the original “borking” of judge Robert Bork, and later their attempted “borkings” of President Trump’s Supreme Court appointees.
Also on Vote at Home’s board is Stephen Silberstein, one of the top 20 donors to the Hillary Clinton-aligned super PAC Priorities USA Action in 2016, a board member for the anti-electoral college group National Popular Vote, and a member of the Democracy Alliance, where the left’s most powerful donors regularly meet to discuss funding of political and get-out-the-vote groups. The Silberstein Foundation has donated at least $425,000 to the National Vote at Home Institute since 2018.
McReynolds herself spoke at the Democracy Alliance’s 2018 fall conference (on an unknown topic) alongside Black Lives Matter co-founder and “trained Marxist” Alicia Garza, then-Leadership Conference president Vanita Gupta (who’s now associate attorney general in the Biden Department of Justice), and the “civic-engagement” (read: voter-turnout) group For Freedoms.
The Vote at Home nonprofits have also received funding from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund Voice, various AFL-CIO unions, and the Arabella-run dark-money groups Hopewell Fund and New Venture Fund.
Under McReynolds, Vote at Home released its first national vote-by-mail proposal in mid-2020, “catapulting” this tiny organization into the center of the left’s scheme to use Covid-19 to transform the 2020 election.
As the election loomed, Vote at Home supplied secretaries of state with drop box locations—many of them paid for by CTCL’s “Zuck bucks”—and pushed for hasty adoption of mail-in ballots in at least 37 states and D.C.
California hired McReynolds to consult on its massive vote-by-mail expansion plans in mid-2020. And in the Atlanta suburb of DeKalb County, Georgia, Vote at Home published a 60-page report to help the county “create a modern, lean vote-by-mail program.” DeKalb received $9.6 million in Zuck bucks—$12.59 for every person living there—and gave Joe Biden 300,000 votes.
Meddling in the States
In Wisconsin, the Vote by Mail operative Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein effectively ran Green Bay’s election as the city’s “de facto elections administrator,” according to a later investigation by Wisconsin Spotlight. Email chains exposed Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich “usurping” the city clerk’s authority over election administration and giving it to the Vote at Home crew—placing the state’s third-largest election in the hands of private, partisan actors. In the clerk’s words, Green Bay “went rogue” under Vote at Home and its Democratic allies.
Spitzer-Rubenstein reportedly controlled four of the five keys to the room where ballots were stored and counted, had access to absentee ballots days before the 2020 election, and asked the county clerk if he and his team could “cure” faulty absentee ballots as they’d done in Milwaukee.
Vote at Home launched a Wisconsin “communications toolkit” in August “to support outreach around absentee voting” in coordination with an allied left-wing group, the Center for Civic Design, which “share[d] research insights about how to engage people who might not trust the vote by mail process.” (It’s also worth noting that CTCL, which spent $10.1 million in Wisconsin, lists the National Vote at Home Institute as a partner in its schemes.)
But Vote at Home didn’t only target Wisconsin. A since-removed list of state leads on Vote at Home’s website reveals other operatives in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey.
Little is known about these operatives’ meddling in the 2020 election, and most of them don’t list (or perhaps have dropped) National Vote at Home Institute from their LinkedIn profiles. But in Ohio and Georgia, at least, Vote at Home operatives coordinated their efforts with the Leadership Now Project, formed by Obama administration alumni to trick conservative voters into supporting the Left’s gerrymandering and vote-by-mail schemes—a project it called “Fix the System.” Fix the System was run by Nilmini Rubin, who now runs public policy affairs for Facebook.
Your Opinion Is Disinformation
Since the 2020 election, McReynolds has pivoted to dismissing any claims of election irregularities, fraud, or mischief as “disinformation”—such as in one left-leaning podcast in which she’s described as a “progressive”:
In an election where one side isn’t happy with the outcome their immediate response is to blame the process, or blame the system, and so we’re going to have a lot of work to do to dispel the myths and the misinformation and disinformation because that’s just spreading like wildfire.
Elsewhere, she’s claimed that “the 2020 election was the most secure election that we’ve ever had” (CTCL makes the same extreme claim) and that “the biggest challenge in 2020 was the disinformation and misinformation that occurred.” Limits on mail-in voting, in her view, “are aimed at restricting election officials from doing their jobs,” not preventing illegal voting, while “partisan actors” (read: Republicans) are “play[ing] games and try[ing] to tip the scales in the election process.”
This is pundit language and a dead giveaway for partisan leanings. “I think on the policy front, part of the reason the disinformation spreads… is that there are not many federal standards,” she told the Associated Press in May 2021. “We need to think about some federal standards [for elections] because it’s easy for bad actors to spread the wrong information because the rules vary so much by state.”
“Federal standards” to combat “disinformation” means placing control over how the elections are run in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. It means ignoring the Constitution’s stipulation that the states alone may prescribe “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives” (Article 1, Sectiom 4) and instead instituting the sort of top-down election system the Founders tried to prevent.
Anyone familiar with how the left suddenly adopts a new phrase or buzzword to fit political needs won’t be surprised by the sudden popularity of a once-obscure word—“disinformation”—previously used by intelligence services to describe false-flag operations in espionage and wartime, which is now used to describe right-wing voter-suppression conspiracy theories. It’s designed to shut down debate.
Delivering the Votes
Shortly after Joe Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th president, McReynolds got her reward: an appointment to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, which oversees the agency.
There’s a catch. By law, a maximum of five members of either party may serve on the nine-person board. As of writing, the USPS Board of Governors has four Republicans and three Democrats, plus the “independent” McReynolds. If the Senate confirms Biden’s newest nominees—a Republican who’s served under both Trump and Obama, Derek Kan, and a Democrat, Derek Tangherlini, who heads Laurene Powell Jobs’ philanthropy Emerson Collective—it would bring the total to five Republicans, four Democrats, and McReynolds.
By presenting McReynolds as an “independent” during her 2021 confirmation process, the Biden administration quietly freed up a future Democratic seat, potentially gifting the party six seats and total control over the Postal Service in the near future.
But is McReynolds really an independent? For one thing, McReynolds was a registered Democrat in 2010, according to the conservative American Accountability Foundation.
She was also an advisor to the Election Validation Project, a campaign by Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund to advise public officials on conducting election audits. The project is headed by Jennifer Morrell, an ex-Colorado elections official who also runs the Elections Group, a CTCL ally that provides “guidance” to officials on implementing mail-in ballots.
Just 10 days prior to McReynolds’ appointment to the Board of Governors in February 2021, the National Vote at Home Institute’s website showed a list of partners, almost all of them left-wing political groups.
By March, the list had been scrubbed from Vote at Home’s website.
Notables included the Democracy Fund, Rock the Vote, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), Center for Civic Design, the far-left Represent.US, Arabella-run Center for Secure and Modern Elections, National Association of Letter Carriers, ACLU, Common Cause, and Democratic consultancy Uprising Strategies, whose co-founder, Nick Rathod, runs Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Texas gubernatorial campaign.
McReynolds was confirmed to the USPS Board of Governors in May 2021 by a vote of 59 to 38 as an independent. Republican William D. Zollars’ term expires in December 2022. With the left pinning so many of its hopes on vote-by-mail in the future, skeptics might rightly wonder why Biden wouldn’t try to replace him with another Democrat in order to gain an illegal supermajority on the board.
This is hardly speculation. Senate Democrats started calling on Biden to remove Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee, earlier this year. Why? DeJoy is a vote-by-mail skeptic. Democrats and activists have accused him of intentionally slowing down the delivery of mail—and mail-in ballots—ahead of the 2020 election, which DeJoy denies. (It is more likely that, as with everything else in 2020, Covid-19 was responsible for slow delivery times.)
A left-wing majority would have the power to replace DeJoy with a more pliable candidate. Common Cause, a liberal litigation group and Vote at Home partner, has an entire lobbying campaign for creating a Biden-appointed, “reform-minded majority” on the USPS Board of Governors to “fix Trump’s manufactured USPS crisis and fire DeJoy.”
Biden’s nominees uniformly count speedier delivery of mail-in ballots as central to their proposed “sweeping reforms” to the Postal Service. One can expect the other Democrats and McReynolds to support transforming the declining agency into a ballot-delivery service, since vote-by-mail is central to the Democrats’ future election strategy.
This risky strategy relies on propping up the Postal Service. USPS lost $4.6 billion in 2021 alone and has predicted it will run out of money by 2024. Trump proposed privatizing the agency in 2018. A bipartisan postal-reform bill, signed into law in April, promises to save $50 billion over the next decade, though critics see it as throwing good money after bad.
In March, Biden asked Congress for $10 billion to fund “election infrastructure”—half of which would be used to boost USPS’s capacity for mail-in voting “in underserved areas” (translation: rich with Democratic votes), including free postage for ballots for an agency that has lost money for the past 15 years.
But the strategy makes more sense when viewed in concert with other elements designed to give Democrats a permanent edge in future elections, like CTCL’s $80 million campaign to get Uncle Sam to pay for the things Mark Zuckerberg funded in 2020: more mail-in paper ballots, and taxpayer funding for drop boxes to bypass USPS should it fail to deliver the necessary votes.
They’re already making headway. In April the Postal Service, Democracy Fund, and Vote at Home invited election officials to a two-day retreat in Phoenix, Arizona, where they were schooled in best practices related to “voter-roll maintenance,” “envelope and application design,” and other vote-by-mail elements.
A Better Strategy for the Nation
What can conservatives and their allies do? Here are a few simple ideas.
First, make states the battlefield for election integrity, not the federal government. As of writing, 20 states have banned or restricted Zuck bucks, others are eliminating private drop boxes, and more have shored up voter ID laws. In Republican-controlled states, this is low-hanging fruit.
Second, election administration must be transparent and free from private influence. That means keeping government agencies honest and above partisanship. The Left’s entire election strategy after the 2020 election hinges on co-opting government offices and subordinating them to the interests of the Democratic Party. Show Americans how this is deeply unfair and they’ll oppose it every time.
Third, recognize that this opponent is a paper tiger, and chin up. The professional, entrenched left isn’t weak, but it isn’t as powerful as it pretends to be. Exposing this novel, partisan campaign for what it is—a blatant attempt to codify permanent control in Washington—is a winning issue for constitutionalists. After all, CTCL’s pivot from Zuckerberg funding in 2020 to federal funding in 2021–22 is as good as admitting that they don’t believe private funding for elections is sustainable or popular with the American people.
Clever conservatives will demand their opponents answer a simple question: Do you believe private, special interests ought to fund public elections agencies?
This is a fight we can win.
Hayden Ludwig is a senior investigative researcher at the Capital Research Center