Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence swore in some of the most notorious Republican voter suppressors to the White House’s ludicrously named Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
“It is hard to imagine a list of people less credible on the issue of the extent of voter fraud in the United States, and who have done more to raise the scourge of voter fraud as a means to advocate for laws to make it harder for people to register and to vote,” wrote Rick Hasen on ElectionLawBlog.org on July 10. “This is not a list meant to inspire bipartisan cooperation on fixing election administration. It is assembling a rogues’ gallery of vote suppression.”
The gallery begins with the panel’s vice-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has worked on limiting voting rights of non-whites almost as long as he has helped white supremacists draft anti-immigrant laws, starting a decade ago in Arizona. His anti-voter obsessions include pushing states to require new voters to submit paper documents proving U.S. citizenship when registering, as opposed to signing an oath under penalty of perjury. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law estimates 7 percent of the electorate can’t readily produce such paper proof. (Kobach passed this law in Kansas, disenfranchising tens of thousands.)
Kobach also specializes in using shoddy data mining to try to identify people illegally voting more than once. Actual occurrences of illegal voting are rare—less than one in a million voters—and infinitesimally small compared to the margins that determine who wins and loses. But Kobach’s operation, called the Interstate Crosscheck program, has identified hundreds of thousands of false positives in states like Georgia and North Carolina. That has allowed Republicans to launch fabricated “voter fraud” investigations and to fail to expeditiously process registrations from voter drives from groups tied to known Democratic constituencies.
Kobach is joined by Hans von Spakovsky, who was recently a Heritage Foundation fellow, but is most notoriously known for being a Justice Department appointee in the George W. Bush administration who was part of the cabal that fired seven federal prosecutors for failing to prosecute voter fraud. (They didn’t prosecute voter fraud because the cases they found were so small-time they didn’t merit the government’s attention.) Nonetheless, Heritage keeps producing its reports pretending voter fraud is a national scourge, such as this report, which lists 492 cases and 733 convictions of false voter registrations, non-citizen voting, fraudulent use of absentee ballots and duplicate voting from 1984 through 2017. What’s omitted in those fulminations is that’s one case for every 2 million presidential election voters, if you add up the numbers from 1984 to 2016 (approximately 980,000,000 votes).
Then there’s ex-Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who did everything possible in 2004 in Ohio to disadvantage Democrats and ensure Bush’s re-election. Blackwell issued dozens of directives aimed at the fine print of election law to disenfranchise anyone not voting Republican, from requiring voter registration forms be printed on a certain weight paper stock—different from the paper grassroots new voter drives were using—to disqualifying ballots if they were turned in at the wrong table in polling places (the so-called right church, wrong pew problem). He also disqualified multi-thousands of ballots and aggressively purged voters in blue epicenters.
There’s also J. Christian Adams, who left the Justice Department early in the Obama years because he said higher-ups would not allow him to go after voter fraud and Black Panthers in Philadelphia who were intimidating white voters. He has been a fixture on the right-wing talk circuit encouraging Tea Party spinoffs like True the Vote to try to recruit polling place vigilantes to challenge the credentials of “suspicious” looking voters. He’s also made a career out of suing small counties for failing to maintain their voter lists, saying such bloated and outdated directories could become a conduit for illegal voting.
Now, there are some sober-minded and clear-eyed people on Trump’s commission, such as New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has had that job since the late 1970s, and scoffed when top White House aides like Stephen Miller said last winter that the president lost in New Hampshire because busloads of illegal voters were brought into the state. Former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is another reasonable longtime official.
However, nobody should have any illusions about what the Pence-Kobach crew is up to. In a March 28 letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed by two-dozen GOP anti-voter activists, including Kobach, Spakovsky and Adams, they described the classic Republican agenda of seeking to shrink the electorate outside the GOP’s aging white wealthy base, and make voting harder, instead of easier.
Using the bland language of election lawyers, they seek an end to the enforcement of civil rights laws and want the federal government to allow states to add additional requirements to receiving a ballot—such as specific state-issued photo ID cards, even though not one state election laws lists such pieces of plastic as a requirement to be an eligible voter. Numerous studies have found restrictive voter ID laws shave two to three points off Democratic turnout, with even higher percentages among non-whites. Ending the early voting option also reduced turnout.
Their March letter urges a “return to race-neutral Voting Rights Act enforcement,” “an end to politically driven pursuits against state photo voter identification requirements, citizenship verification in voter registration, and common-sense adjustments to early voting periods,” and “return to enforcing Section 8” of the National Voter Registration Act (or Motor Voter law), which governs voter purges. The letter ends hyperbolically, declaring, “The American electorate is crying out to see protections against political enforcement of the law.” (As if these suggestions are not political.)
Already, Kobach’s commission (Pence is the titular head) has gotten into hot water by demanding states turn over their statewide voter files within two weeks, including private data that states do not routinely share, or in some cases need legislative authority to do so. Dozens of states have balked, but that allowed Trump to tweet that the states must be hiding something; these are the same states where he lied that millions voted illegally to yield Hillary Clinton a 2.9 million popular vote majority. The states are not hiding anything and Kobach knows it. It’s all a setup to create a pretext to newly police the process.
While presidential commissions have a long record of producing reports that are put on shelves and gather dust, this commission could do great harm. That’s because even if Congress fails to adopt anything the commission suggests, elections are primarily run by the states. There are now red super-majority legislatures in Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Ohio—all states that could rubber-stamp anything Kobach suggests to further suppress Democratic voters and preserve the GOP’s power.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).
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