Sunday, September 17, 2017

Trump's Election Commission: A Fraud on the Public

      Justice John Paul Stevens delivered an impassioned dissent when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in Bush v. Gore to block a complete recount of Florida's vote in the 2000 presidential election. "[W]e may never know with complete certainty the winner of this year's Presidential election," Stevens said. He added regret at what he saw as a loss of public confidence in the court as "an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
      With the wounds of the 2016 presidential election still fresh in mind, both of the rival candidates — Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton — are doing what they can to undermine confidence in the results of the election. Trump has peddled the blatant lie that he would have won the popular vote if not for a supposed 3 million to 5 million votes cast illegally by non-citizens.
      Clinton, in her sour grapes memoir What Happened, has complained with more substantiation that she might have won at least one other state, Wisconsin, and perhaps others if not for the vote-suppressive effects of  newly enacted state voter ID laws. Clinton lays blame for the Wisconsin law not only on the state's Republican legislature and Republican governor but also on the Republican-majority Roberts Court for allowing the law to stay on the books despite legal challenges.
      The effects of the various voter ID laws passed in Republican-controlled states over the past two decades would be a good subject for detailed, bipartisan examination by a presidential or congressional commission. But Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is intent instead on following its creator in perpetuating the completely fraudulent charge of widespread voter fraud in U.S. elections.
      Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who is the commission's vice chair and eminence grise, set the stage for the commission's second public session last week [Sept. 12] by describing the state's junior senator, Maggie Hassan, as holding a "stolen seat" because of supposed voter fraud in her 743-vote margin in the November balloting. Kobach's accusation is easily debunked, but it takes a paragraph or so.
      To start, the ostensibly bipartisan 12-member commission is fraudulent in its very composition: "flawed from the very start," according to the good-government group Common Cause. The seven Republican members are for the most part veterans of the voter ID law movement, which depends for its very existence on the imaginary epidemic of voter impersonation fraud. Besides Kobach, the other Republicans include Vice President Mike Pence, the nominal chair; Ohio's former secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell; Indiana's current secretary of state, Connie Lawson; and two former officials in the Bush administration's Justice Department: Hans von Spakovsky, now with the Heritage Foundation, and J. Christian Adams, president of the self-styled Public Interest Legal Foundation.
      Before the selections, Von Spakovsky wrote an email to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging him to keep Democrats or moderate Republicans off the commission entirely. Von Spakovsky denied writing the email after it surfaced in response to a Freedom of Information Act, but a Heritage spokesperson acknowledged his authorship. Von Spakovsky's advice may have been rejected, but the five Democrats on the commission are mere tokens: only two have statewide election responsibilities, Maine's Matthew Dunlap and New Hampshire's Bill Gardner, while the other three have only minimal expertise in the area.
      Kobach's imputation of fraud in New Hampshire stems from his discovery of 5,313 votes cast by individuals who same-day registered with out-of-state driver's licenses. But, surprise: New Hampshire allows anyone living in the state to vote even if their legal residence is another state. For example: college students. New Hampshire Public Radio easily ascertained that most of Kobach's supposedly fraudulent votes were cast in college towns. End of story.
      The commission's other evidence of voter fraud is a Heritage Foundation database that goes back to 1948 to identify 1,071 "proven instances" of election fraud cases. Out of nine categories, however, only two — and those with the fewest in number — might be prevented by voter ID laws: impersonation fraud and false registration. The other categories included absentee ballot fraud, vote-buying, vote-counting alteration, and so forth.
      In a detailed dissection, the Brennan Center on Justice concluded that the voter impersonation and false registration cases represented "a molecular fraction" of the total in the Heritage Foundation compilation. Heritage's database "undermines its claim of widespread voter fraud," according to Brennan Center senior counsel Rudy Mehrbani. Among ineligible voters who cast ballots, most had prior felony convictions and could have been unaware of their disqualification, Mehrbani suggested.
      In its critique, Common Cause recalled that three previous election commissions over the past two decades came up with useful recommendations that could be adopted by red or blue states alike. Those commissions were truly bipartisan, the group explained: the current commission "an aberration."
      The Trump commission's congenital defects are all the worse because of the many issues that Common Cause and others have identified as needing substantive and bipartisan attention. Those issues include "how to ensure access for all eligible voters; enhancing enthusiasm for and participation in our electoral processes; and modernizing voting machines and systems to ensure their safety from external interference."
      That last point deserves emphasis. Despite evidence of Russian election hacking attempts in 2016, state and federal election officials have done little to study the problem or prevent it in the future.

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