We didn’t expect President Donald Trump’s review of “voter fraud” to be credible, but his recently announced “election integrity” commission is worse than anticipated.
Despite assurances that the committee would consider voter suppression along with Trump’s imagined millions of fraudulent ballots, the executive order creating the committee references only “improper” and “fraudulent” voting and registration. There are no references to improper efforts to suppress votes, which are real. The commission’s work may legitimize efforts to further restrict voting, which is unnecessary and reduces voting among poor and minority communities.
The committee’s work will be overseen by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has tried on numerous occasions to make it more difficult to vote in that state. Courts have ruled against him four times. In one case, where Kobach tried to set his own, more stringent, standards for voter registration under a provision of National Voter Registration Act that allows people to register to vote when they obtain a driver’s licence, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals called Kobach’s actions “a mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.” The court unanimously rejected Kobach’s requirements, which it said would deprive 18,000 Kansas residents of the right to vote one month before the November 2016 election.
Putting Kobach, along with Vice President Mike Pence, in charge of the commission confirms that it will focus on phantom voter fraud, rather than removing real hurdles that keep some Americans from voting.
One bright spot is Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s appointment to the commission. Dunlap has overseen Maine elections for 10 years and has not seen the widespread fraud alleged by Trump, Gov. Paul LePage and others. Unfortunately, we expect his view to be in the minority on the commission, even though the evidence is on his side.
Nationally, Jason Leavitt, a Loyola Law School professor, did a comprehensive analysis of voter fraud allegations between 2000 and 2014 and found 31 instances nationwide with credible evidence of potential fraud that may have been addressed through voter ID laws. He found another 13 cases of potential voter impersonation that such laws would not have stopped. That’s out of over 1 billion ballots cast in that period.
“[B]y any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare,” Leavitt wrote in a 2007 report for the Brennan Center for Justice. He found most instances of alleged voter fraud are instead clerical errors made by election officials.
This hasn’t stopped efforts in Maine and other states to make it harder for people to vote in the name of improving election security. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, for example, sponsored a bill to add requirements for Maine college students seeking to vote in Maine. The bill was quickly rejected last month by his colleagues in the State House.
Another bill to require that voters show identification in order to get a ballot was also rejected. Similar legislation has failed in previous years despite unproven stories, most notably from former Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster, of hundreds of college students fraudulently voting in Maine.
A commission empaneled by former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, a staunch supporter of voter ID, found no evidence of voter fraud and recommended against a voter ID requirement in 2013.
“A voter ID law is unnecessary as there is little or no history in Maine of voter impersonation or identification fraud,” the panel wrote in its report. It said such a law would make it more difficult for homeless, African-American, elderly, poor and rural voters to access the polls.
An honest evaluation at the federal level would find the same thing. Given its charge and leadership, Trump’s election review looks nothing like an honest evaluation.