Last week, amidst the media frenzy over Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach made an announcement. He plans to run for governor in 2018.
The pronouncement that Kobach is seeking his state’s highest office comes shortly on the heels of another new post – in early May, he was named Vice-Chair of the newly created “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.”
From its very unveiling, the Commission has garnered criticism from a wide range of public officials and non-partisan groups, who have cited the overtly partisan nature of the endeavor.
This partisanship is especially evident in the group’s membership. To start with, it is led by two members of the same party — Vice Chair Kobach, and Chair, Vice President Mike Pence, both Republicans. In fact, of the seven Commission members who have so far been named, all but two are Republicans. And now — citing concerns over the Commission — the Democratic National Committee has launched its own panel to study vote suppression. That commission has experienced officials and election professionals, but they are all Democrats. This, too, misses the point.
Partisan wrangling will not bolster public confidence in our elections. To the contrary, politicized grandstanding on election issues is likely only to further erode such confidence.
Shouldn’t our goal be ensuring that our elections are truly free, fair, and accessible — and in the process restoring Americans’ trust in their vote? If the answer is yes, as it should be, then the path forward is clear. Only a non-partisan, empirical, and objective approach to improving our elections system can accomplish this goal.
Unfortunately, the very design of Trump’s commission seems to belie that aim. In addition to its skewed membership, the Commission’s scope is troubling in itself. Rather than a broad review of election practices, the executive order instructs the group to specifically identify “vulnerabilities…that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting.”
Trump’s intent here is clear. Despite the numerous studies, government investigations, and court findings indicating the opposite, he is continuing to hew to and perpetuate the demonstrably false myth of rampant voter fraud. Indeed, a number of other politicians, too, seem willing to ignore the evidence of voter fraud’s virtual non-existence — all in the pursuit of political gain.
But fair and unbiased election administration is essential to our democracy. To politicize it is a dangerous proposition — one that undermines the fundamental principles of fairness in our democracy.
And that is why the revelation Kobach’s run for governor adds yet another troubling facet to Trump’s Commission. His campaign will likely be largely coextensive with the Commission’s investigation. Will he maintain an objective frame in his Commission-related responsibilities? Or will he use the Commission as an opportunity to score political points as he pursues a higher office?
The latter is almost certain to even further degrade Americans’ trust in the Commission and in the election system itself – exactly the opposite of the Commission’s purported aim.