The New York Times
Trump Picks Voter ID Advocate for Election Fraud Panel
A voter in Wellesley, Mass. in November. A White House official said President Trump would sign an executive order for the purpose of “reviewing alleged voter fraud and suppression.”
Cheryl Senter for The New York Times
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
May 11, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday named Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has pressed for aggressive measures to crack down on undocumented immigrants, to a commission investigating vote fraud, following through on his unsubstantiated claim that millions of “illegals” voted for his Democratic rival and robbed him of victory in the national popular vote.
Mr. Kobach, who has championed the strictest voter identification laws in the country, will be the vice chairman of the commission, which will be led by Vice President Mike Pence and is expected to include about a dozen others, including state officials from both political parties, said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order on Thursday creating the commission, which Ms. Sanders said would have a broad mandate to review policies and practices that affect Americans’ confidence in the integrity of federal elections. Marc E. Lotter, Mr. Pence’s spokesman, said that voter suppression would be among the topics studied by the commission, which he said would take a wide-ranging look at problems at the state and national levels. But the order makes no mention of suppression or voting restrictions, specifying only “improper” or “fraudulent” registration and voting as issues to be explored.
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Democrats and civil rights groups condemned the panel as a taxpayer-funded witch hunt, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a legal request to the White House for records showing “concrete evidence” of fraudulent voting that would warrant the creation of such a commission.
“President Trump is attempting to spread his own fake news about election integrity,” said Dale Ho, the director of the A.C.L.U.’s Voting Rights Project. “If the Trump administration really cares about election integrity, it will divulge its supposed evidence before embarking on this commission boondoggle.”
The commission was created at a tumultuous time in the White House, after Mr. Trump’s abrupt firing on Tuesday of James B. Comey. the F.B.I. director, who had been leading an investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. United States intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia worked to sway the election to Mr. Trump.
Ms. Sanders said the group would produce a report for Mr. Trump next year on “system vulnerabilities that lead to improper registrations and voting.” Its roots lie in Mr. Trump’s own long-festering grievances and his conviction that illegal voting — including ballots cast by people who were registered to vote in multiple states, were not citizens, or were impersonating people whose names had remained on voting rolls after they died — reduced his margin of victory.
There is no evidence to support Mr. Trump’s claims, which have been discredited repeatedly by fact-checkers. that millions of people voted illegally in 2016.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump repeatedly raised doubts about the integrity of the American voting system. After winning the election, he told members of Congress privately that three million to five million undocumented immigrants had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, costing him the popular vote. And he promised to begin a major investigation.
Voting officials in both parties and academics across the country have long rejected the notion that fraudulent voting is widespread, finding instead that it is a sporadic and uncommon occurrence that has had no discernible effect on election outcomes. Mr. Trump’s own lawyers concluded as much about the 2016 contest, asserting in legal filings that it was “not tainted” as they sought to block recount s in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“There are problems in the registration system that don’t translate into fraud, there are sporadic and very rare instances of fraud, and voter impersonation fraud is the rarest of all,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor of political science at Stanford who served as the research director of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2012.
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“The notion that there is widespread voting by undocumented immigrants or other ineligible voters has been studied repeatedly and found to be false,” he said.
Mr. Kobach’s influential position on the panel intensified the controversy over its creation, particularly among immigration advocacy and civil rights groups, as well as Democrats who said they feared he would use the perch to try to prevent minority voters from casting ballots.
“Selecting Kris Kobach as vice chair reveals exactly the kind of discriminatory witch hunt the American people can expect from this commission,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and the House minority leader. “The president’s ‘election integrity’ commission is clearly intended to accelerate the vile voter suppression efforts in states across the nation.”
Mr. Kobach was the driving force behind a Kansas law requiring new voters to produce a passport, a birth certificate or naturalization papers as proof of citizenship. He worked last year to disqualify the state and local votes of thousands of people who did not meet those criteria. He has advocated the proof-of-citizenship requirement at the federal level as well, alleging rampant voter fraud without producing proof of a widespread problem.
Mr. Kobach dismissed the criticism of him as a “silly reaction” and said he had no preconceived ideas of what the commission would find. He argued that there had been no previous national effort to gather “hard data,” rather than survey-based research, to quantify voting problems.
“If there’s no such thing as voter fraud, or voter fraud is insignificant, then the commission will be able to confirm that,” Mr. Kobach said in an interview. “What are they afraid of? Why do they not want to know these numbers?”
Ms. Sanders said the commission would also include the Republicans Connie Lawson, the secretary of state of Indiana, and Kenneth Blackwell, who formerly held that post in Ohio, as well as two top Democratic election officials: William M. Gardner of New Hampshire and Matthew Dunlap of Maine. Christy McCormick, a Republican member of the nonpartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission appointed by President Barack Obama, has also been selected to serve on the panel.
“The president’s committed to the thorough review of registration and voting issues in federal elections, and that’s exactly what this commission is tasked with doing,” Ms. Sanders said. “The commission will 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.”
Civil rights groups reacted with alarm to the creation of the task force, arguing that Mr. Trump’s own claims of illegal voting by immigrants suggested that his intent was to work to restrict the voting rights of minorities.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the commission “a thinly veiled voter suppression task force,” adding that it was “designed to impugn the integrity of African-American and Latino participation in the political process.”
Democratic lawmakers said the commission was ill-conceived at best and a potential front for discriminatory policies at worst.
“Instead of focusing on the myth of voter fraud, the president should be looking at ways to make it easier for eligible Americans to vote, given how difficult it is for some individuals to vote in this country,” said Senator Benjamin A. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said the president was “chasing a unicorn” with taxpayer money and “perpetuating the dangerous myth that widespread voter fraud exists.”