This week, Donald Trump’s Commission on Electoral Integrity, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, met in New Hampshire to discuss their findings. These findings, however, have not withstood scrutiny from officials at organizations like the Campaign Legal Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, leading to questions concerning its legitimacy.
Trump famously stated that the only reason he lost the popular vote was due to people voting illegally. This falsehood has been disproven over and over, in spite of being parroted by several White House officials without ever showing proof. It has also been a talking point for Kobach, who said last July that we may “never know” if Hillary Clinton really won the popular vote.
Kobach, notorious for passing a series of stringent voting rights laws in Kansas (where he plans to run for governor next year), got the conference off to a rocky start when he reasserted statements from an op-ed he wrote for Breitbart, where he claimed more than 5,000 votes in New Hampshire were cast illegally using out-of-state licenses. He also stated that New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan only beat Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte because of illegal voting as well. He relied on his favorite phrase to back up this assertion: that we may “never know.”
The problem is, we do know. As New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner pointed out, it is perfectly legal in New Hampshire to vote with an out-of-state license. Many college students with out-of-state licenses came forward to attest to the legitimacy of their votes in the wake of Kobach’s assertions. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap rebutting:
“Driving and voting are not the same…You have a right to vote; driving is a privilege. Making the equation that failing to update your driver’s license is proof of voter fraud would be almost as absurd as saying that if you have cash in your wallet, it’s proof that you robbed a bank.”
Dunlap went on to detail how a voter suppression campaign in Maine, most likely instigated by Governor Paul LePage, targeted students from out-of-state with flyers containing false information. Dunlap stood up for the college students, saying that even if they were from out-of-state, their dorm counted as a place of residence. Today, Maine is weighing a law that will change the voting system to a weighted ballot where voters rank candidates from best to worst. It is the kind of responsible reform that the Trump Commission should consider.
Instead, the Commission considered a proposal from John Lott, a Second Amendment advocate and head of The Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott, who has criticized firearms regulations like the Brady Bill, also believes that voter ID laws lead to higher electoral turnouts, another statement that, like Kobach’s on illegal voting, has no credibility. Given his approval of the Second Amendment, and his ability to find fault with the first, his proposal would unite his twin love and hate by forcing all eligible voters to undergo a background check to determine whether or not they can vote – in spite of the fact that Lott has called background checks for guns “ineffective” at preventing crime. Political scientists have roundly dismissed Lott’s proposal, such as UCLA’s Adam Winkler, who said in The Washington Post:
“Either this is just an effort to jag Democrats for supporting a background check system for guns when they wouldn’t support one for voting…or it could be a sign that the election commission is planning to propose broad new federal legislation for determining eligibility for the right to vote.”
Indeed, the commission, although it has five Democrats – including Gardner and Dunlap – in addition to its seven Republicans, has made no attempts at bipartisanship. Most bipartisan efforts have a Democrat and Republican in the positions of Chair and Vice Chair. Here, those respective seats are occupied by Pence and Kobach, both Republicans. And the release of a seven-month-old email from Commission member Hans Von Spakovsky to Jeff Sessions, sent in February and recently acquired by the Campaign Legal Center, has only further codified the partisan intentions of the venture. Von Spakovsky, an advocate for harsh voter ID laws and former member of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division under George W. Bush, wrote:
“We’re…hearing that they are going to make this bipartisan and include Democrats. There isn’t a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements…making claims that it [the commission] is engaged in voter suppression…
“There are only a handful of real experts on the conservative side of this issue and not a single one of them…have been called other than Kobach…And we are told that some consider him too ‘controversial’ to be on the commission. If they are picking mainstream Republican officials and/or academics to man this commission it will be an abject failure.”
The Campaign Legal Center has condemned the Commission since the email went public earlier this week. Von Spakovsky, in his defense, said he did not send the email directly to Sessions, which is true – it was sent to a “private individual” and then forwarded to the Attorney General. But Von Spakovsky’s email proved people’s worst assumptions about the Commission.
Von Spakovsky has been called to resign from the Commission, but even if he does, his influence on our voting laws will not just leave with him. This week, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed two lower court rulings concerning the gerrymandering in Texas that has been found to discriminate against voters of color. This could have been prevented had the Republicans not stolen Merrick Garland’s seat, because back in March, The Nation revealed that Justice Neil Gorsuch had corresponded with Von Spakovsy back in 2005, approving his appointment to the Federal Election Commission. Now we know that Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views. And thanks to people like them, voting the Republicans who got us into this mess out of office might become a lot harder.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.