States to Trump’s Election ‘Integrity’ Commission: Count Us Out

Resistance Is Plain, and Loud
Lyndon Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act / Wikimedia
Lyndon Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act / Wikimedia

On the eve of the president’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Germany, there is ample reason to believe that Donald Trump will not confront him on interfering with the 2016 election. At this point one can’t help but speculate about his reluctance to do so, especially that he still has not completely acknowledged what multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed and his fellow party members have accepted as fact: Russia hacked Democratic campaign accounts and state balloting systems in an attempt to tilt the election toward the man who ended up in office. On Thursday in Poland, he once again refused to state categorically that Russia was involved. Grant that winners by virtue of their winning might not feel compelled to examine too closely the validity of a tally in their favor. But it’s hard to imagine a Bill Clinton or a George H. W. Bush, presented with similarly convincing evidence that a foreign power meddled with the franchise, being so childishly dismissive of it—to say nothing of a Barack Obama or, given that the power in question is Russia, a Ronald Reagan. While sidestepping the main issue, the president even managed to criticize his predecessor, on foreign soil, for doing nothing about Russia’s interference—the interference that didn’t happen, that is.

But there is good news on safeguarding the electoral process, albeit in another form and from other quarters: forty-five states in the past week have publicly declined to fully aid the misleadingly named Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in its dubious mission to root out voting fraud. The president, resistant as he is to proof of Russian meddling, is obsessed with the daft notion that the three million Americans who tagged him with a clear popular-vote defeat either voted illegally or were not “real” voters in the first place, a delusion eagerly fed by a cadre of like-minded kindlers led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. He and Vice President Mike Pence head the commission, which given the paucity of actual cases of fraud seems intended instead to nationalize the kind of voter-suppression efforts that Kansas and other states have undertaken since Barack Obama’s 2008 election and the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby decision on the Voting Rights Act. (Commonweal has detailed those efforts here, and criticized the commission here.)

The commission is a sham that should be shut down before it can do its desired damage

Last week, Kobach, in his first significant act as vice chair, asked all fifty states to turn over troves of voter information, including names, birth dates, party affiliation, arrest records, and the last four digits of social security numbers. This unprecedented over-reach was met with resounding and welcome resistance from all over the country, epitomized in the response of red-state Mississippi’s secretary of state: “Go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Indiana, home of the vice president, will not comply. Even Kobach’s Kansas is out, enjoined legally from handing over some of the information the commission wants. Arizona is a no, as is Kentucky, Louisiana (“the [federal] commission has quickly politicized its work,” complained its Republican secretary of state), South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming, not to mention all the blue states you might expect. While the administration’s reliable claque of shills is insisting that all these noncompliant states must, must have something to hide, in most quarters the resistance is being hailed for its bipartisan nature.

All well and good, and proof as if any was needed that the commission is a sham that should be shut down before it can do its desired damage. For casting doubt on the legitimacy and security of the voting system itself is its real mission: Plant the seed that all elections are potentially riggable because of fraud and you’re bound to suppress turnout. And suppressing turnout is always what such “voting integrity” efforts are aimed at. The Nation’s Ari Berman has long supplied indispensable reporting on this fact, but for a more comprehensive look at the modern history of voting suppression in the United States his book Give Us the Ballot is must-reading. It was released in 2015 but if anything its urgency is even greater today, as it traces the half-century link between civil-rights opponents, Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices, and assorted zealots in all levels of government in attempting to systematically exclude certain blocs of voters from the ballot box. While the president and certain of his supporters falsely cry “fraud,” it is people like Berman and the forty-plus state secretaries who are proving, with data and with deeds, where the real fraud lies.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s executive editor.

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