The Trump administration has set up what Trump calls a “voter fraud panel.” Billed as an official “Advisory Commission on Election Integrity Resources,” the commission is being met with stiff resistance from many states, lawsuits by civil rights, and privacy watchdogs, and it is even prompting some worried voters to take the names off the voter rolls.
The origins of this commission come from Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that “millions” of people voted “illegally” in the 2016 election, all of them for his opponent. In a November 27, 2016 tweet, Trump claimed, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Even though scientific studies have repeatedly shown voter fraud to be insignificant in campaigns and elections, a week later he claimed that 3-5 million had voted illegally, all against him.
Trump’s panel is packed with Republicans who have repeatedly questioned the integrity of U.S. elections or have actively promoted voter suppression measures.
- Vice President Mike Pence, Chair. Pence believes that skepticism about voter fraud is “well founded.”
- Kris Kobach, Vice-Chair, Kansas Secretary of State. The ACLU has dubbed him the “King of Voter suppression.”
- Hans Von Spakovsky, was dubbed the “Dark Prince of Voter Fraud Alarmism” by Slate and is the author of books on voter fraud.
- Ken Blackwell, former Ohio Secretary of State, was sued by the state’s citizens for his handling of the vote count in the 2004 Presidential election after the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush.
- Connie Lawson, Indiana Secretary of State, helped write Indiana’s voter ID law, which became a national “model” through the American Legislative Exchange Council.
According to the ACLU: “The Commission was established for the purpose of providing a veneer of legitimacy to President Trump’s false claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election once millions of supposedly illegal votes are subtracted from the count. That purpose is evident in the composition of the Commission, which is stacked with individuals who have endorsed the President’s false statements about the popular vote, and the fact that no provisions whatsoever have been made to insulate the Commission’s advice and recommendations from inappropriate influence by the person who appointed the Commission’s members i.e., President Trump himself.”
Kris Kobach Promotes Flawed “Crosscheck” Program
President Donald Trump established the commission by executive order on May 11. On June 28, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chair of the commission, sent a letter to all 50 states and the District of Columbia asking them to submit data from their voter rolls, including voters’ political party affiliations and voting histories from 2006 onwards, as well as voters’ names, addresses and dates of birth.
If Kobach’s name rings a bell it should. Kobach, is the nation’s primary proponent of a “Muslim Registry” and famously arrived for an interview with Trump with diagrams under his arm explaining how to get it done. Kobach was also involved in the creation of Arizona’s SB 1070 crack down on illegal immigrants and he has taken credit for Trump’s “the Mexicans will pay for the wall” promise.
Kobach is the nation’s most vocal proponent of the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program” known as “Crosscheck.” Even before the Commission’s request, huge problems with Crosscheck were already being revealed.
Author Greg Palast expose The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters for Rolling Stone detailed the enormous flaws with a system that can’t take into account common names, middle names, fathers and sons, etc. and produces hugely inflated numbers of “problem” voters. For the state of Virginia for instance Crosscheck produced a list of 400,000 voters whose names allegedly appeared on the lists of other states. If Virginia acted to purge those voters, it could have an enormous impact on elections. Fortunately states have begun to drop out of Crosscheck due to its methodological problems.
Mark Swedlund, a database expert, analyzed what is known about Crosscheck and concluded that Crosscheck’s “childish methodology” disproportionately targets minority voters, those most likely to vote for Democrats. “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.” Swedlund told Palast.
Of course Kobach seems unconcerned by the fact that many in Donald Trump’s inner circle are registered to vote in numerous states.
States Are Fighting Back
States are refusing to turn over voter rolls to the Pence-Kobach commission. NBC reported that the states are fighting back:
“Nineteen states — both red and blue — and D.C. are flat-out refusing to comply with the request, citing privacy concerns and some claiming the 15-member vote fraud panel is politically-motivated. Twenty-six states said they plan to only hand over only what is deemed public information by their respective state laws, while five states have yet to receive the commission’s request or are still reviewing it, according to a count by NBC News.”
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) was one of more than 100 groups that jointly called on Secretaries of State to reject this request for sensitive voter data and many Secretaries of State are sounding the alarm.
Delbert Hosemann, Republican Secretary of State of Mississippi said, “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.” Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky said, “There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible.”
In response, President Trump suggested that the long list of states refusing to turn over personal voter data to the commission have something to hide.
Legal Experts Are Fighting Back
Legal experts are fighting back on a number of grounds, using federal open government laws, and privacy laws and the U.S. Constitution to argue that a federal national voter data base kept by the Army is not really what the founders intended.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the administration, saying the commission is in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires such committees to have open meetings, chartering, public involvement and reporting. The ACLU complaint says:
“Defendants have violated FACA in two respects … The Pence-Kobach Commission has already held its first meeting without public notice; without making that meeting open to the public; and without timely notice in the Federal Register.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) has also filed suit on FACA-violation grounds, because of the commission’s “failure to disclose communications and make its meetings open to the public.”
Additionally the Lawyers’ Committee complaint states, “The Commission’s request for voter data, and its operation more broadly, already is causing significant harm. There have been widespread reports of voters canceling their voter registrations out of fear of what the Commission will do with their personal information. For instance, Colorado officials have reported a 2,150 percent increase in registration cancellations since the Kobach letter was sent.”
Corey Hutchins of the Colorado Independent reports: ‘confusion,’ ‘hysteria,’ and voters unregistering at some local election offices.
Earlier this week, in the office of Boulder’s election division, workers were keeping a tally on sticky notes when voters started calling to cancel their registration or to become so-called confidential voters.
Since Monday, according to official counts, the office has seen 270 of its voters cancel their registration. About 70 have asked for confidential status, in which they sign an affidavit saying they feel their safety is at risk.
It’s not just Colorado. In Florida the Orlando Sentinel reports that, Worried voters try to ‘unregister’ after Trump voter-roll request. Ian Millhiser writes at Think Progress, in Trump ‘voter fraud’ squad may already be tricking voters into taking themselves off the rolls, that “It’s almost as if disenfranchising people is the whole point.”
Public Citizen also filed a complaint, this one raising serious privacy concerns about a national voter database maintained by the U.S. military. The commission is asking that states upload the information to the Department of the Army’s Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) website.
“The federal government should not be compiling information about citizens’ political affiliations and their exercise of the right to vote,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman.
“Americans are right to be worried about who will gain access to the data and how it will be used. There is little doubt that the overriding purpose of the data collection effort, and of the deceptively named Commission on Election Integrity itself, is to intimidate voters, particularly people of color, and to suppress voting on a massive scale.”
Public Citizen’s complaint says Department of the Army’s Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) website violates the Privacy Act, which “prohibits any agency from collecting, using, maintaining, or disseminating records describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
The far right has long been aware that the more extreme their ideas, the harder it is for them to be passed into law. As ever more right-wing Republicans dominate 32 state houses, countless voter suppression measures have been introduced.
Paul Wyrick, a founding father of the “conservative movement” laid out the blue print way back in 1980: “I don’t want everybody to vote… our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”