Saturday, July 1, 2017

Trump's Election Integrity Commission, aka "Voter Suppression Commission"

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly claimed there would be wide-spread voter fraud.  Even after he won the electoral college while losing the popular vote by over 2 million, he pushed the voting fraud rumor of busloads of Democrats being brought in to vote in New Hampshire.  He became obsessed with explaining why he didn't also win the popular vote, and the reason he settled on was "voter fraud."  If not for all those illegal voters, he would have won the popular vote as well as the electoral college, he said.

There is no evidence to back that up.   Trump has offered none, and the Federal Election Commission has no evidence nor any reason to suspect fraud.

Nevertheless, in May, President Trump set up a White House Election Integrity Commission.   Chaired by VP Mike Pense, the Vice Chair and executive director is Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, notorious for his hard-line views on immigration and voting restrictions, and for advocating a Muslim registry.   He has lost on court cases brought by the ACLU, yet he remains an influential adviser to other conservative states obsessed with voter fraud.

The commission has yet to hold it's first meeting, but it has already alarmed many voting rights activists by a request from Kobach to the 50 states for detailed data about registered voters, including names, party registration, voting records, criminal records, and 4-digit social security numbers.   Over 20 Secretaries of State (including Pence's Indiana and even Kobach's own Kansas) say they will not comply -- some being candid in saying it's because the request seems "politically motivated."  Some will furnish data, but only what is publicly available already.   Virginia Gov. Terry McCauliff said, "At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump's alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression."

If all that were not bad enough, Trump has now made another appointment to the commission that raises alarms, Hans von Spakovsky, who was said by election law expert and law professor Rick Hasen to be "responsible for making an obsession with voter fraud a focus of the Republican Party."

He was in George W. Bush's Justice Department where he had influence in the Civil Rights Division.   At that time, certain states had to submit any change in voter laws for approval.   In the case of a new Georgia law, which four of five reviewing lawyers recommended rejecting, von Spakovsky secretly influenced the fifth lawyer to his own point of view -- and his dissenting memo eventually became the basis of the department's decision to authorize the law (reported by Sam Levine, according to an article in The Nation).

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said this:   "There are few people who have worked harder to push voter suppression efforts than von Spakovsky.  He was one of the key drivers of the politicization of the Justice Department's civil rights work during the Bush administration. . . .  His appointment makes clear that the Election Integrity Commission is a vehicle intended to promote and advance policies that restrict access to the ballot box."  Other critics fear the commissions' reports will be used to bolster new, restrictive voting laws.

But, of course, that is exactly what Trump, Kobach and their ilk want.

Sam Levine, who wrote the report I'm following here from HuffPost, says further, "Von Spakovsky's presence on the commission also raises concerns about the credibility of the final report it will issue.  The Nation reported that when he was at the FEC, von Spakovsky pushed to have the wording changed in . . . [a report]" that undermined the strong support for the summary statement that "There is widespread but no unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud."  Von Spakovsky wanted to change it to say, "There is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud."

These are the kind of behind-the-scenes taints that will affect our democracy long after Trump is gone -- but they don't make the front pages to compete with stories about what Trump's latest tweet said to insult the appearance of a female tv anchor who criticized him.


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