The Honest Elections Project (HEP) is a group founded by powerful conservative activist Leonard Leo in early 2020 to promote restrictive voting laws. It is a project of the 85 Fund, another group tied to Leo, who was recently given control of $1.6 billion to fuel his far-right political agenda.
HEP plays an important convening role in the “election integrity” space, providing polling, messaging, and research support, and working closely with state lawmakers through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It also uses the courts to restrict access to voting—which is particularly notable given that its founder, Leo, helped engineer the right-wing takeover of the courts.
In 2023, HEP has had a particular focus on blocking states from enacting ranked choice voting (RCV), a policy that allows voters to rank their preferred candidates and which has long had bipartisan support. HEP convened the “Stop RCV” coalition and has published reports and op-eds, and developed polling and messaging, in order to shift conservative support away from common-sense reforms that allow voters to fully express their candidate preferences.
HEP is also providing fodder for “Zuck bucks” conspiracy theories about outside support for under-resourced local election offices. Following Trump’s 2020 loss, the former president and his allies promoted conspiracies about how Facebook’s CEO and his wife “rigged” the election by funding a nonprofit that supported struggling local election offices in red, purple, and blue municipalities. HEP supported those laws, and in 2023, has issued reports advancing conspiracies about ongoing nonpartisan efforts to support local election offices. HEP has also released materials publicly defending states that enacted strict voting laws, like in Arizona, Texas, and Georgia.
Some of HEP’s public-facing materials present the group as more even-handed than other election fraud conspiracy theorists, but their agenda is equally radical: it has the effect of making it harder to vote and more likely that your vote won’t be counted.
HEP has also worked closely with ALEC to build relationships with state lawmakers and advance restrictive voting policies. Indeed, ALEC’s CEO, Lisa Nelson, said in 2021 that ALEC would be effectively outsourcing its election reform work to HEP, telling a crowd at a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy that “We don’t have model policy” on election reform, but that “we will be developing that at the Honest Elections Project through them.”
In 2021, HEP held a series of election law “academies” for state lawmakers in collaboration with ALEC. According to invitations obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, HEP sponsored a three-day academy for state lawmakers in July 2021, which included a presentation from HEP’s Snead on “priorities for election integrity across the states, as well as polling results.” Later that year, the group organized an “Honest Elections Academy Part Two,” where HEP pledged to work with state lawmakers to put election law changes “into practice, from direct litigation strategies, to workshops with leading election experts, to messaging techniques.”
HEP also sponsored the 2022 ALEC meeting at $50,000-$60,000 “chairman” level, and hosted an exclusive “leadership dinner” for state lawmakers following that meeting, apparently in collaboration with state legislative leaders from Arizona, Utah, Kansas, Mississippi and Iowa, according to invitations obtained by Documented.
HEP has also supported the conservative legal strategy to restrict access to voting. As described by Mother Jones, the group “litigated against efforts by state officials to make voting more accessible during the pandemic, and has filed more than a dozen amicus briefs supporting a wide range of voting restrictions, according to research by the watchdog group Accountable.US.” HEP has also been a key driver of the fringe “independent state legislature theory” that could make it easier for partisan state lawmakers to subvert elections.
In 2020, as states shifted towards mail-in voting amidst the COVID pandemic, HEP announced that it would spend $250,000 on advertisements warning against voting by mail, “and accusing Democrats of cheating,” according to The Guardian. But then in the 2022 election, HEP ran Facebook ads in several states reminding voters to return their mail-in ballots before state deadlines.
HEP does not disclose its funders. However, a tax filing from a dark money group closely tied to Trump appeared to have earmarked $4.8 million for HEP in 2020, as the group worked to advance voting rules perceived to help the then-president’s reelection.