September 16, 2017; Chicago Tribune
Because ensuring all citizens can register and vote and that elections at all levels are fairly conducted is the bedrock of democratic practice, NPQ has followed the progress of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity since it was first announced. Alas, concerns that the Commission is more an effort to suppress the vote of minority and Democratic voters than about solving real problems persist.
The Commission’s charter seems straightforward: “The Commission on Election Integrity will study vulnerabilities in voting systems used for federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations, and fraudulent voting. The Commission will also study concerns about voter suppression, as well as other voting irregularities.” But the president’s repeated unsupported claims of mass voter fraud created concern about the Commission’s “real” agenda.
This past week, the Commission held its second formal meeting. Following the lead of the president, the Commission’s co-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, used Breitbart News to promote his own unfounded charges that the results of New Hampshire’s 2016 election were swayed by illegal voters. “According to statistics released by the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives,” he said, “on the date of the general election in November 2016, there were 6,540 same-day registrants who registered to vote in New Hampshire using an out-of-state driver’s license to prove their identity…It is highly likely that voting by nonresidents changed the result.”
New Hampshire’s Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat, who serves alongside Kobach on the Commission, publicly challenged this conclusion and rejected the idea of a rigged election as baseless: “You questioned whether our election as we have recorded it is real and valid and it is real and valid.” He also noted that wild and unsupported allegations make doing the work of the Commission impossible.
Adding to worries about a biased process was the discovery of an email from Commission member Hans von Spakovsky, a Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow. Von Spakovsky’s appointment had already prompted questions about his ability to be objective, given his very public prior assertions of widespread illegal voting. Just days ago, the Campaign Legal Center obtained a message he had written that ended up in Attorney General Jeff Session’s inbox. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, von Spakovsky argued, “There isn’t a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission and what it is doing, making that it is engaged in voter suppression.”
The Democratic Maine Secretary of State challenged von Spakovsky’s ability to continue to serve. According to the Tribune, “Dunlap said von Spakovsky was trying to keep people like him from serving, adding that he is well respected by legislators in both parties in Maine. ‘It really taints Mr. Spakovsky’s participation on the commission. If he had any dignity, he’d step down.’” For his part, von Spakovsky has indicated he will not resign and that the email was a private communication.
With all this drama swirling around, the Commission did hold its second open meeting and heard from several panels of experts who were asked to speak about voter turnout. Some saw these panels as composed less of impartial scholars than partisan advocates. Alan King, another Democrat on the commission, said “he had misgivings as about the direction in which his Republican colleagues are moving.”
If we’re just going to parade people through to say what they want them to say, this isn’t a good approach. This nation deserves a legitimate commission that gives a fair shake to the evidence. If you don’t have that, it’s a total waste of everyone’s time.
While there are voices speaking up in protest against a biased process that seems headed toward recommendations that would making registering and voting harder, those who control the Commission either see a problem that isn’t there or, more sinisterly, desire to suppress the votes of black, Latinx, and poor Americans. The concerns NPQ raised as the Commission got going have not eased: “That the commission is led by individuals who have been actively working to challenge voting rights and make it harder to vote makes it very hard to trust their words. That they appear to be ignoring the vulnerability of our voting systems to manipulation by hackers and the possibility of foreign interference adds to the concern of those now speaking to, and against, their work.”—Martin Levine