Soros Director Moves to Rockefeller Entity to Push for Automatic Voter Registration

Democrats ramped up efforts to attack voter ID laws following Trump's victory

George Soros / Getty Images
July 2, 2018

Julie Fernandes, who served as the deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of President Barack Obama's Justice Department and then as a director of Voting Rights and Democracy at Soros's Open Society Foundations, will now serve as the associate director of the institutional accountability and individual liberty at the Rockefeller Family Fund, a New York-based nonprofit founded by the Rockefeller family. 

Fernandes's move is another signal that Democrats are moving to undermine voter ID laws following Donald Trump's victory in 2016.

"I am thrilled to join the innovative and dynamic team at RFF at such a critical time in the fight to protect and strengthen our democracy," said Fernandes. "I look forward to working with my new colleagues to develop, support, and promote projects that bolster core democratic ideals and institutions, such as protecting the right to vote, ensuring the drawing of fair electoral maps, and supporting independent journalism and courts."

The program lists its main initiative as "Voter Registration Modernization," which was created to counter efforts that "limit voting of the poor, elderly, newly enfranchised immigrants, and people of color." It also lists its objective as "expanding participation in the nation's democracy by enacting legislation to provide automatic and permanent registration to all voters."

Critics say such laws increase the chances of noncitizens being able to vote.

"Automatic voter registration takes the worst elements of Motor Voter enforcement and exacerbates them ten-fold," said Logan Churchwell, spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation. "A growing number of states have proven to offer voter registration to green card and visa customers. Automation can take the noncitizen's ability to defend themselves against premature voter registration and sets them on direct paths for deportation. Should this foundation's new leadership find success, they will be responsible for generating more cases like Margarita Fitzpatrick in Illinois on a national scale."

The Rockefeller Family Fund did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Fernandes led a division for Soros that the billionaire viewed as a top priority. Internal documents showed Soros had set a personal goal of expanding the electorate by at least 10 million voters, the Washington Free Beacon found after DC Leaks released thousands of hacked documents in 2016 from his organization.

As part of this goal, Soros pushed millions of dollars behind a campaign attacking voter identification laws in a number of states. Marc Elias, a partner at the D.C.-based Perkins Coie law firm who was acting as the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton's campaign at the time, led that campaign. Elias worked on the challenges independent of the campaign and in his personal capacity as an attorney at Perkins Coie, although Clinton had publicly backed the efforts.

One group that Elias initially represented, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, was later investigated for submitting fraudulent voter registrations that included registering dead people to vote. A source close to Elias at the time said that he did not have contact with the group since it was replaced as the plaintiff on that suit.

An individual from the Ohio Organizing Collaborative ultimately pled guilty to voter fraud and was sentenced to six months in prison.

Soros was simultaneously funding other efforts such as the Immigrant Voters Win PAC, which was initially bankrolled by $3 million from the financier. The PAC was linked to the "Families Fight Back" campaign, an effort led by the Center for Community Change, the Latino Victory Project, and America's Voice that sought to register 400,000 Hispanic voters before the 2016 elections.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who leads the "Need to Impeach" campaign against President Trump, is now the Immigrant Voters Win PACs primary funder.

Liberals quickly moved to expand their network combating voter ID laws following Trump's victory.

Elias joined the board of Priorities USA Action, which backed Clinton and whose top funder throughout the 2016 elections was Soros, in early 2017 as the group began its preparation to push back against state-level Republican efforts to pass or enforce voter ID laws. Elias would spearhead challenges from the group's nonprofit arm. 

Priorities absorbed Every Citizen Counts, a nonprofit started by Clinton allies that focused on mobilizing Latino and African American voters and sought to create a national database to be a "one-stop inventory" on voting measures that it would share with other liberal groups.

Soros is yet again the top donor to Priorities this cycle, filings show.   

Let America Vote, a nonprofit founded by former Democratic Missouri secretary of state and possible 2020 Democratic candidate Jason Kander, was also launched just days after it was announced Elias would join Priorities to lead their efforts. 

Elias sits on Let America Vote's massive advisory board alongside a handful of former top aides to President Obama, leaders of the Democratic party in multiple states, and heads of liberal organizations such as Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.