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Disbanded: Trump’s “Voter Fraud” Commission

Now disbanded, the president’s commission to investigate alleged voter fraud was a tool for enabling voter suppression.

Last Updated: July 1, 2018
Published: May 11, 2017

On Janu­ary 3, 2018, Pres­id­ent Donald Trump issued an exec­ut­ive order dissolv­ing the contro­ver­sial “Voter Fraud” Commis­sion before it could issue a final report. The decision to disband the group followed months of contro­versy and legal chal­lenges from civic groups, includ­ing the Bren­nan Center. The Bren­nan Center’s reac­tion to the White House’s state­ment is avail­able here

Pres­id­ent Trump initially created the “Pres­id­en­tial Advis­ory Commis­sion on Elec­tion Integ­rity” through an exec­ut­ive order signed on May 11, 2017. The commis­sion was charged with study­ing “the regis­tra­tion and voting processes used in federal elec­tions” and identi­fy­ing “vulner­ab­il­it­ies in voting systems” that could lead to voter fraud. Vice Pres­id­ent Mike Pence was the chair, and Kansas Secret­ary of State Kris Kobach — a known promoter of voting restric­tions and the myth of voter fraud — was the vice chair. It met for the first time on July 19 in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and again on Septem­ber 12 in Manchester, N.H. 

The Commis­sion was created in the wake of Pres­id­ent Trump’s repeated asser­tions that millions of people voted illeg­ally in the 2016 elec­tion. For years, claims of fraud have been used to justify unwar­ran­ted voting restric­tions. There is strong reason to suspect this commis­sion was not a legit­im­ate attempt to study elec­tions, but rather a tool for enabling voter suppres­sion. You can read more about the commis­sion’s back­ground here

The Commis­sion’s Likely Agenda

The work of the commis­sion could have resul­ted in a wave of seri­ous, new barri­ers prevent­ing Amer­ic­ans from exer­cising their funda­mental right to vote.

The Myth of Voter Fraud

Study after study has demon­strated that fraud by voters at the polls is vanish­ingly rare, and members of Pres­id­ent Trump’s own party have refuted his asser­tions. Senate Major­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell expli­citly stated that we should not “spend any federal money invest­ig­at­ing” voter fraud.

Commis­sion Members’ Contro­ver­sial Records on Voting

Vice Pres­id­ent Mike Pence was the chair of the commis­sion, and Kansas Secret­ary of State Kris Kobach was the vice chair. Four commis­sion­ers — Kris Kobach, Hans von Spakovsky, J. Chris­tian Adams, and J. Kenneth Black­well — have partic­u­larly long track records of voter suppres­sion.

Assess­ing the Commis­sion’s Evid­ence

Commis­sion­ers repeatedly cited mislead­ing or patently untrue evid­ence to support their base­less claims of voter fraud. Here are some of those pieces of evid­ence, and resources that refute them. 

The Commis­sion’s Contro­ver­sies

The commis­sion was mired in contro­versy since its incep­tion. Here are some of the most prom­in­ent examples. 

Responses to the Commis­sion’s Request for Voter File Data

State and advocacy group responses to Kris Kobach’s request for state voter file data.

Legal Actions Taken Against the Commis­sion

Organ­iz­a­tions filed legal chal­lenges against the commis­sion on a vari­ety of trans­par­ency, privacy, and admin­is­trat­ive policy grounds.

Invest­ig­at­ing the Commis­sion

The Bren­nan Center and other civic groups have filed public records requests to better under­stand the commis­sion’s goals, oper­a­tions, and the steps that led to its found­ing.