The danger of Trump’s voter fraud commission
By Max Labaton
This post originally appeared in the Duke Chronicle
Instead of seeking bipartisan solutions to increase voter participation in our country, President Donald Trump authorized the creation of a commission comprised of known vote suppressors to substantiate his unfounded claims of voter fraud. The Commission on Election Integrity is one of the most vicious attempts to nationally promote voter suppression in recent decades. All Americans should join in calling on the President to end this sham commission.
To lay the groundwork for a nationwide effort to suppress the vote, Kansas Secretary of State and Commission co-chair Kris Kobach requested that states release confidential information on voters, such as dates of birth and social security numbers. With this request, it is clear that Kobach hopes to intrude into states’ sovereign electoral processes to perpetuate the myth that voter fraud is widespread. Statewide election officials from both parties have rejected his request, but more need to come forward and condemn these partisan efforts.
Academic research, government inquiries and news investigations show that voter fraud is essentially nonexistent. In one of the most comprehensive investigations on the subject, Justin Levitt, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Law at Loyola Law School, found just 31 instances of voter fraud out of more than one billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014. Professor Levitt suggests that some of these fraudulent ballots might be due to clerical errors and concludes that the chance of voter fraud occurring is 1 in 32 million. In 2007, President George W. Bush’s Justice Department concluded a five-year voter fraud investigation that found virtually no evidence of voter fraud. While the investigation did yield 86 convictions as of 2006, many of those charged appeared to have misunderstood eligibility rules or incorrectly filled out registration forms. And last December, a Washington Post analysis found four cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election out of more than 136 million ballots cast, or a voter fraud rate of one per 34 million ballots.
Unprecedented in scope, the Kobach-led commission seeks to accomplish on a national level what over-reaching governors and legislatures have done at the state level. Following the Supreme Court’s divided 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted part of the Voting Rights Act, many states implemented austere voter ID laws to curtail voting rights and restrict minority turnout.
For instance,Ohio’s legislature approved a bill that cut six days from the state’s early voting period and eliminated “Golden Week,” which allowed state residents to register and vote on the same day. Texas enacted one of the harshest voter ID laws in the country requiring voters to produce a state-approved form of photo identification to vote. Acceptable identification includes a driver’s license, passport, military ID, or a concealed gun permit, but not a student photo ID. And in July 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina’s voter ID law, which terminated valid out-of-precinct voting, same day registration, and pre-registration for teenagers about to turn 18, targeted minority communities with “surgical precision.”
Some of the most egregious acts committed in the name of preventing voter fraud have been carried out by Kobach himself, who throughout his public career has attempted to sow fear about illegal immigration and voter fraud. He has expressed paranoia that Latino immigration could cause “ethnic cleansing” of whites, and has helped to craft stridently anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama.
As Kansas’ secretary of state, he urged the state legislature to pass the 2011 Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act, and to make him the only secretary of state in the country with the power to prosecute election violations. The SAFE Act requires would-be voters to show a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers. In limiting what qualifies as identification, and applying the proof-of-citizenship test only to voters registering in 2013 or later, this law discriminates against minorities, low-income people, and young people, all of whom are more likely to register for the first time and less likely to be able to afford immediate access to citizenship papers. As of September 2015, the SAFE Act has blocked the registration of over 30,000 Kansans and in February 2016, a federal court found that the act violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. That is what makes Kobach’s leadership of a voting commission so alarming; his efforts at the state level to disenfranchise minority voters has a national stage.
The right to vote is the hallmark of a democracy; it is among the most direct mechanisms for citizens to convey unhappiness with their elected officials. This precious right requires elected officials to be held accountable to their constituents.
President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is reported to have said, “A man without a vote is a man without protection.”
Those words are as true today as they were in 1965. The Commission on Election Integrity represents not only an unprecedented federal intrusion into states’ electoral processes, but also an attempt to use the myth of voter fraud to allow politicians to strip citizens of their constitutional right to vote.
Max Labaton is a Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law intern and a sophomore at Duke University studying public policy.