President Donald Trump’s election fraud commission is coming under fire not only for requesting mass amounts of voter information but also for including two key members who have been accused of championing legislation that would suppress voter participation along partisan lines.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was appointed the vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity after Trump signed an executive order in May.
Last month, Kobach issued a request to all 50 states and the District of Columbia to relinquish public voter roll data, which includes information such as full names, addresses, party affiliation, voting history and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.
The request immediately came under attack. A non-profit advocacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, asked a federal court last week to grant a temporary restraining order against the commission, alleging the requested voter roll data would not be secure. In response, the commission requested all states halt giving up their data until the court rules on the order.
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The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a suit in federal district court, accusing the commission of violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which emphasizes federal committees having open meetings and encouraging public involvement in research.
Kobach’s office declined to comment on either court filing.
“We all agree American elections need to be secure,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “What we’re looking into here is to ensure … all of the information is being considered under the light.”
Kobach, who launched his campaign for governor of Kansas last month, has supported Trump’s unfounded claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.
In 2011, Kansas passed Kobach’s legislation, the “Kansas Secure and Fair Election (SAFE) Act,” which requires newly registered Kansas voters to prove their citizenship upon registering and requires all voters to show photo identification when casting an in-person ballot.
Calling the SAFE Act the most restrictive voter registration law in the country, Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said he believes the selection of Kobach as the commission’s vice chairman signals the Trump administration is looking implement similarly restrictive voting laws nationwide.
He said forcing Kansas voters to provide proof of citizenship through a birth certificate or passport prevents tens of thousands of otherwise eligible voters, particularly the elderly and college students away from home, from registering in the first place.
“There are a lot of citizens in this state for whom producing a birth certificate or passport is harder than you think,” Kubic said. “There’s no question the purpose of appointing Secretary Kobach as vice chairman of the commission is to take his experiment of voting suppression nationwide.”
Newly appointed commission member Hans von Spakovsky has a lengthy history fighting voter fraud, working as counsel to the assistant attorney general in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission and now as manager of the Election Law and Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.
However, after von Spakovsky’s two-year recess appointment as commissioner of the FEC ended in 2008, Senate Democrats blocked his nomination, alleging he exercised intense political bias while working in the Justice Department.
House Democrats and officials in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division who opposed von Spakovsky’s nomination accused him of advocating measures that would lead to voter suppression under the guise of fighting widespread voter fraud.
“There are always critics of me who are making claims that are patently false,” von Spakovsky told McClatchy in an interview. “I understand how precious the right to vote is.”
Von Spakovsky refutes a longtime claim from Democrats that he overruled recommendations from colleagues within the Justice Department and forced them to approve a controversial 2005 Georgia law that reduced the number of acceptable forms of identifications to vote from 17 to six.
A 2013 Justice Department report found no evidence of overruling of career staff by political appointees from the Bush administration in the Georgia voter ID case.
Von Spakovsky said much of the frustration with the commission and its members is unsubstantiated and a symptom of what he referred to as “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
“They want to oppose everything President Trump is doing,” he said. “It’s frankly bizarre.”
Other commission members include Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state; Christy McCormick, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission; David Dunn, former Democratic state representative from Arkansas; Mark Rhodes, Wood County, West Virginia’s county clerk; and the Indiana, Maine and New Hampshire secretaries of state Connie Lawson, Matthew Dunlap and William Gardner, respectively.
Dunlap, a Democrat, said it will be important for the commission, which meets for the first time July 19, to clearly identify its goals and the information needed to reach them while at the same time effectively communicating with the public.
“The core thing is that we got to do it in a way that engenders confidence, not suspicion,” said Dunlap, who anticipates a lot of head-butting when the commission first meets.
Dunlap and Gardner, two Democrats on the commission who are familiar with each other, plan on challenging the commission’s other members.
“(Gardner and I) are going to be on the street corners with bullhorns telling people what’s going on,” Dunlap said.
Katishi Maake: @KatishiMaake