The Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, created by President Trump on May 11, 2017, ostensibly to “promote fair and honest elections,” was revealed to be a Voter Fraud Panel by the president himself via a tweet on July 1, 2017.
Background of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity/Voter Fraud Panel
The Election Integrity Commission is chaired by Vice President Pence, who was allowed to name a vice chairperson from among the additional 15 members of the bipartisan commission appointed by President Trump. Pence chose Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as the Vice Chair of the body of those, who, according to President Trump’s executive order would be people who are “individuals with knowledge and experience in elections, election management, election fraud detection, and voter integrity efforts, and any other individuals with knowledge or experience that the President determines to be of value to the Commission.”
The formation of the Commission came after President Trump alleged that millions of people voted illegally in 2016, the number of which was enough to prevent his victory in the popular vote count in the 2016 presidential election. The president first signaled his intention to investigate that alleged fraud in a tweet dated January 25, 2017.
Who is Kris Kobach, Vice Chair of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity?
Kobach, much like the man who appointed him to the Commission, is a polarizing figure in his own right. The former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party first became his the Kansas secretary of state in 2011. His activities in that position have earned him the nickname “king of voter suppression” by the American Civil Liberties Union. (http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/339923-pence-prepares-for-first-meeting-of-election-integrity-commission) In addition to his position as Vice Chair of the Election Integrity Commission, Kobach has announced his intent to run for governor of Kansas in the next election.
States’ Responses to “The Letter” That Drew the President’s Criticism
President Trump’s tweet of July 1, 2017 revealed not only that the Election Integrity Commission is, in fact, a Voter Fraud Panel, but his frustration with the states who are refusing to comply with the Commission’s request for information from each of the 50 states, suggesting that those who have been uncooperative have something to hide.
In the June 28, 2017 letter to the 50 secretaries of state signed by Kobach, a request for information on registered voters included:
- First and last names, along with middle names or initials, if available
- Date of birth
- Political party
- Last four digits of Social Security number, if available
- Elections voted from 2006 forward
- Whether status is active or inactive
- Canceled status
- Information on any felony convictions
- Information regarding voter registration in another state
- Information regarding military status
- Overseas citizen information
The Commission’s letter stipulates that the above information be shared if it is publicly available by the laws of the individual state.
In addition to the individual data of each states’ registered voters, the Commission’s letter requests each secretary of state to provide his/her views and recommendations in a number of election and voting related areas including:
- Any changes to federal law that would improve the integrity of federal elections
- Recommendations for preventing voter fraud or intimidation
- Convictions for election-related crimes in each state since the November 2000 election
The current list of states who have chosen not to comply with the Commission’s request for information on each state’s registered voters in whole or in part as of July 2, 2017: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Much is being made on social media that Kansas, Kobach’s state, will not supply Social Security numbers of its registered voters, but such information is restricted from public access by Kansas law, as is true for some of the other states who will withhold all non-public information about its registered voters such as North Carolina who will supply all requested data except for the last four Social Security digits, driver’s license numbers and dates of birth.
Some states, such as Kentucky and California, have chosen not to share any of the requested information with the Election Integrity Commission/Voter Fraud Panel, with Kentucky’s Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat saying:
“There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible. Not on my watch are we going to be releasing sensitive information that relate to the privacy of individuals.”
In Mississippi, the Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said of the Commission’s request for information:
“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, released a statement in regards to the Election Integrity Commission/Voter Fraud Panel:
“I have no intention of honoring this request. Virginia conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia. This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November. 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.”
In the meantime, some cybersecurity experts have voiced their concern that the data requests from the Commission/Panel is ripe for the picking by cyber criminals and hackers, exposing sensitive personal information of registered voters to hacking or even digital manipulation. Joe Hall, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Democracy and Technology, explained his concerns:
“The bigger the purse, the more effort folks would spend to get at it. And in this case, this is such a high-profile and not-so-competent tech operation that we’re likely to see the hacktivists and pranksters take shots at it.”
Analysis of the Question: Do We Call It the Election Integrity Commission or the Voter Fraud Panel?
To begin with, the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity seems to have been created to investigate President Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election that cost him a loss in the popular vote to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. This conclusion may have been supposition initially, but the president himself confirmed it with his July 1st tweet.
Is it possible, though, that such a Commission/Panel be both about election integrity and voter fraud? It is reasonable to postulate that the 16-member body can do both.
The tone of the questions in Kobach’s letter to the states, at least in his questions for their consideration, is one of information gathering and asking for recommendations and ideas. The sensitive data requested on registered voters is another matter, lending itself to a voter fraud investigation.
At this time, calling the presidential-arranged special body either the Election Integrity Commission or the Voter Fraud Panel, as President Trump himself referred to it, is apt. It will be the end results that cement the most appropriate name for this committee – or will it, like so many other issues in national politics these days – be split between names depending on whether one is a Trump supporter or not?
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