Donald Trump Kris Kobach

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is a Sham

Throughout the 2016 election campaign, Trump repeatedly claimed the election was rigged. Since the election, he has claimed over 5 million illegal votes were cast, all by democrats, and he actually won the popular vote. These lies can easily be disproved. Under Republican President George W. Bush, the U.S. Justice Department searched for voter fraud. Out of 197,056,035 votes cast in the two federal elections held during that period, the rate of voter fraud was a miniscule 0.00000132 percent. There is, however, ample evidence the Russians interfered in the elections, yet he has continuously refused to acknowledge it happened. Instead, Trump is defunding the Election Assistance Commission and has created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is a sham, staffed with notorious voter suppression advocates like Kris Kobach and Hans von Spakovsky. Apart from being a huge waste of tax payer money, the commission may have more sinister motives. Unlike the Election Assistance Commission which established voluntary standards for voting and vote-counting equipment, this body is aimed at removing integrity from our elections. Kobach’s recent request for all 50 states to hand over their registered voter data, and upload them to a unsecure server, makes it much easier for the Russian’s to hack a national dababase, instead of having to hack 50 individual states.

The creation of this national database would give Kobach and von Spakovsky, who both have a long history of state voter suppression, illegally purging voter rolls and strict voter ID laws, the chance to do it on a national level. By concentrating their voter suppression efforts on particular states, and using foreign actors to influence voters, they can manipulate the bias built into the electoral college to maintain the presidency.

Kris Kobach

Kobach has devoted much of his career to suppressing the vote. As Kansas Secretary of State, he implemented a new voter ID law that required either a passport, birth certificate of driver’s license to register or vote. It resulted in 1 in 7 new voters being turned away. He claimed the new law was necessary because non-citizens were voting in large numbers, yet only ever prosecuted one non-citizen for voting in Kansas. He also purged voters from the rolls who he claimed were dead, and were later found alive and well, but unable to vote. By getting the data from all 50 states, he can figure out how people registered, what ID they used, and what new ID requirements would result in the most Democrats being unable to register to vote.

In a democracy, you can either compete for votes, or you can try to suppress votes for your opponent. Kobach chooses the latter strategy. He is the king of voter suppression and has an obsession with spreading the myth that there is widespread cheating in our elections, when there isn’t. In Kansas, he’s instituted a “Show Me Your Papers” law which requires people to show a birth certificate or passport when they register to vote. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in a unanimous opinion, found that Kobach had engaged in “mass denial of a fundamental right” by blocking 18,000 motor voter applicants from registering to vote.

In a case the ACLU are litigating in Kansas, his own expert found that African-Americans, who are 6 percent of the citizen voting pool in Kansas, represent 18 percent of the people who lack documents like a birth certificate or passport. Kobach, like Von Spakovsky, knows this is a proven method of voter suppression and want to implement it on a national level.

Hans A. Von Spakovsky

Trump recently appointed another voter suppression advocate, Hans A. von Spakovsky, to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. In the past, von Spakovsky played a central role in approving a controversial Georgia voter identification program over the objections of staff lawyers at the State Department.  He wrote a law review article endorsing photo identification under another name, essentially endorsing Georgia’s approach before the state’s proposal was even submitted to Justice for review. The American Civil Liberties Union says this may have violated Justice Department guidelines.

In that review, von Spakovsky strongly advocates requirements for photo identification at the polls and scoffs at critics who argue that such rules disproportionately harm African Americans and other minority voters. “The objections are merely anecdotal and based on the unproven perception that minority groups such as African-Americans do not possess identification documents to the same degree as Caucasians,” von Spakovsky wrote. He has spent a lot of time pushing his fake illegal voter numbers on Fox “News,” now he has a podium in the federal government.

The Facts on Voter Fraud

For years, red state Republicans have claimed their voter ID laws are aimed at combatting voter fraud. In reality, they are an attempt to suppress the vote among minorities and young people. These groups are less likely to have to required ID, and are more likely to vote Democratic. In court, these laws rarely survive, as there is no evidence to back up their claims of significant voter fraud. The right wing myths of millions voting illegally comes from conflating problems on voting rolls with illegal votes. Most of these problems come from people moving or dying. While this results in duplicate voter registrations or dead people of the voter rolls, there is no evidence that they result in any illegal votes cast.

Voter Fraud

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and an expert in constitutional law, carried out a 10-year study into voter fraud in U.S. elections. He found 31 different incidents, some of which involve multiple ballots, since 2000. These 31 incidents include general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In the general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast during that period. Some of these 31 incidents were investigated, and some led to prosecutions. Based on how other claims have turned out, some of the 31 will end up being debunked. Most are simple human error, problems matching databases, confusion between more than one person with the same name, or someone signing in on the wrong line of a poll book.

Under Republican President George W. Bush, the U.S. Justice Department searched for voter fraud. In the first three years of the program, just 26 people were convicted or pled guilty to illegal registration or voting. Out of 197,056,035 votes cast in the two federal elections held during that period, the rate of voter fraud was a miniscule 0.00000132 percent!

There have also been a few investigations into state elections.  In the contested 2004 Washington state gubernatorial election, a Superior Court judge ruled invalid just 25 ballots. This constituted just 0.0009 percent of the 2,812,675 cast. Many were absentee ballots, mailed as double votes, or in the names of deceased people. The judge found that many were not fraudulently cast.

A leaked report from the Milwaukee Police Department found that data entry errors, typographical errors and procedural missteps. Others were misapplication of the rules. These types of errors accounted for almost all reported problems during the 2004 presidential election. The South Carolina State Election Commission investigated a list of 207 allegedly fraudulent votes in the 2010 election. It found simple human errors in 95 percent of the cases the state had reported as fraud. The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated 625 reported voting irregularities in Ohio during the 2012 election. Again, they found that nearly all cases forwarded to county prosecutors were caused by voter confusion or errors by poll workers.

Voter Suppression

Compare the relatively small number of votes cast fraudulently to the number of votes suppressed by strict new ID laws, and it is clear where the real problem lies. In just four states, recent elections under the harshest ID laws, more than 3,000 general election votes were rejected for lack of ID. While some of those 3,000 may have been fraudulent ballots, the number does not include voters without ID who didn’t show up.

No state considering or passing restrictive voter identification laws has ever documented an significant problem with voter fraud. In court, the new voter identification laws in Wisconsin, Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania, election officials testified they have never seen cases of voter impersonation at the polls. Indiana and Pennsylvania stipulated in court that they had experienced zero instances of voter fraud. When federal authorities challenged voter identification laws in South Carolina and Texas, neither state provided any evidence of voter impersonation. Also, they failed to show how their laws requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls would deter voter most fraud.

Voters acting on their own have no rational cause to vote fraudulently. The odds of casting a deciding vote are miniscule and cheaters risk criminal prosecution under current laws. The costs of fraudulent voting are steep and the benefits practically non-existent. Politically-motivated allegations of voter fraud distract from the real problems in U.S. elections. Instead of partisan poll watchers, the electoral system needs well-trained non-partisan staff. Simplifying complicated rules and professionalizing election administration and poll workers would be a good start. In every major election, millions of eligible Americans do not take part, in large part because of unnecessary hurdles to registration and voting. Automatic voter registration is the answer, but not for this administration.

Wil Donnelly

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