President Donald Trump’s advisory commission on elections held its first meeting July 19 amid continued controversy alleging its purpose is partisan and its actions are illegal.
Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the Commission on Election Integrity, opened the meeting with remarks that the panel had “no preconceived notions nor preordained results.”
Pence’s remarks appeared at odds with Trump, however. The president addressed the commission immediately after Pence and called on the panel to focus on allegations of widespread voter fraud. Trump, who won in the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes to Democrat Hillary Clinton, has claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.
“Every time voter fraud occurs, it cancels out the vote of a lawful citizen and undermines democracy,” Trump said. “We can’t let that happen. Any form of fraudulent voting, whether by non-citizens or the deceased, and any form of voter suppression or intimidation, must be stopped.”
Trump also called on states to share information on their voter rolls with the presidential commission. He said 30 states have agreed to share information but noted that some states are resisting cooperation with the panel.
“If any state does not want to share this information,” Trump said, “one has to wonder what they’re worried about.”
Critics of the commission, including many Democrats and some Republicans, have said that allegations of widespread voter fraud have repeatedly been investigated but never proven. Such allegations, however, have been used by supporters of strict voter identification measures. Critics say the measures are intended to suppress voting among the poor, minorities, and young people, who are more likely to support Democratic candidates.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who serves as vice chairman of the presidential advisory commission, has been at the forefront of efforts to require stricter voter identification, including measures requiring voters to prove their citizenship in order to vote.
The advisory commission was allowed to meet following a federal court ruling July 18, which denied a request for a preliminary injunction to block the meeting due to alleged failure to comply with federal transparency and privacy rules. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in a brief order that the bid for a preliminary injunction against the commission was denied without prejudice and the matter could be revisited.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which sought the injunction, said its legal action was responsible for recent moves by the advisory commission to release documents, including public comments it has received. The Lawyers’ Committee filed a complaint in the federal district court in Washington charging violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and seeking emergency relief, including disclosure of documents.
After the lawsuit was filed, the advisory panel began to release publicly some documents, prompting the court to deny emergency relief for now, the Lawyers’ Committee said in a statement.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said: “It took our lawsuit demanding full transparency in accordance with federal law for the White House to finally disclose some, though not all, materials concerning the so-called Commission on Election Integrity. ... With the voting rights of millions of Americans at stake, we will continue the fight to ensure full transparency with respect to this so-called Commission’s activities,” Clarke said.
Another lawsuit filed against the advisory commission by the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) prompted the panel to suspend its initial request for information from state databases about all registered U.S. voters, including each voter’s name and date of birth, partial Social Security numbers, voting history and party registration.
The commission said in a court filing that it sent states a message not to submit data until the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rules on EPIC’s motion for a temporary restraining order. The filing also said the data collection effort would scrap a plan to use a Defense Department file exchange system to collect the state data and would rely on another system being developed by the White House information technology director.
EPIC has alleged that such data collection represents a massive breach of individual privacy and could be misused by Trump. Many state officials have said they wouldn’t comply with the advisory commission’s request for state voter data, leading the president to complain on Twitter: “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?”
Including Pence and Kobach, the presidential advisory commission is composed of 12 members—seven Republicans and five Democrats. Several of the Republican commission members have been vocal supporters of strengthening voter identification rules to combat alleged threats of voter fraud.
While Democrats mainly have complained about the commission’s focus on allegations of voter fraud, some Republicans also have joined in. These include Trevor Potter, a former Republican commissioner on the Federal Election Commission who later served as counsel to the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Now an attorney in private practice, Potter heads the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center (CLC).
In a statement issued by CLC, Potter said: “Rather than address ... pressing issues in a bipartisan manner, this presidential commission already seems to be blindly focused on manufacturing evidence to support its own foregone conclusions to further partisan objectives.”
“This commission has no meaningful bipartisan credentials and its purpose is based on false charges of voter fraud that have already been repeatedly disproven,” the statement said. “Sadly, the work of this commission promises only to further undermine and erode faith in our electoral process.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
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