President Donald Trump issued an executive order to create an advisory commission to study election integrity, following up on his unsupported claims of massive voter fraud.
Trump’s order named Vice President Mike Pence as chairman of the 15-member commission, which was expected to include other Republicans who have been outspoken on voter fraud issues. The vice chairman of the commission is expected to be Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has spearheaded a national push for new voter identification laws.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the new commission would be bipartisan, including at least two Democratic secretaries of state, Bill Gardner of New Hampshire and Matthew Dunlap of Maine. Republicans expected to join the commission include Connie Lawson, the secretary of state of Indiana, Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state of Ohio, and Christy McCormick, a commissioner on U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Many Democrats have charged that Republican-led efforts to clamp down on alleged voter fraud are intended to suppress voter turnout among minorities and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.
Although they agreed to serve on the new Trump commission, both Gardner and Dunlap have said they have seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud. When Trump claimed earlier this year that there was major voter fraud in New Hampshire, Gardner was quoted in news reports as saying he was unaware of widespread fraud in the state.
Sanders said the new commission would “review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of federal elections and provide the president with a report that identifies system vulnerabilities that lead to improper registrations and voting.”
She said the report was expected to be complete by 2018 and that the experts and officials on the commission “will follow the facts where they lead.” The commission’s meetings and hearings will be open to the public for comments and input, Sanders said.
Trump’s executive order said the new commission would be “solely advisory.” Its mission would be to conduct studies and public hearings aimed at producing a report that identifies “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”
Some Trump critics said the president’s latest move was an attempt to divert attention from an ongoing probe of alleged Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump’s presidential campaign. Questions about the future direction of that probe were heightened by Trump’s controversial May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Liz Kennedy of the Democratic-leaning nonprofit Center for American Progress said in a statement that Trump’s call to study voting issues “grows out of the president’s blatant, easily disproved lies about millions of illegal voters is a false start and a threat to American democracy.”
“Launching an investigation into American voters while attempting to shut down the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election and his campaign’s collusion in that attack reeks of attempted misdirection,” she added.
Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law professor and election law expert, said on his Election Law Blog that the new commission didn’t appear designed to ferret out the truth about allegations of voter fraud, given the partisan track record of Kobach and other Republican members. Hasen also said he was disappointed to see Christie McCormick, a Republican member of the Election Assistance Commission, on the new Trump advisory commission.
The EAC was established by law in the early 2000s as an advisory agency on voting issues and has sought to establish a record of bipartisanship. Hasen noted there also have been previous advisory commissions on voting issues that tried to conduct objective inquiries, relying on advice from professional staffers. These include a commission linked to former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford that investigated problems with the 2000 election, as well as other bipartisan commissions created after the 2004 and 2012 elections.
Hasen said he expected the latest commission not to live up to the standards of previous efforts, but he also suggested that might not matter in the end.
“The Administration’s credibility is so low that few except the true believers are likely to believe anything produced by the likely worthless report,” he said.
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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