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The “Voter Fraud” Commission’s Controversies

President Trump’s now-disbanded Commission on Election Integrity was mired in controversy since its inception.

Published: November 10, 2017
  • June 28, 2017 – Kobach sends sweep­ing data request to states: Vice-Chair Kris Kobach sent letters to chief state elec­tion offi­cials request­ing they submit “publicly-avail­able data from state voter rolls and feed­back on how to improve elec­tion integ­rity” by July 14. The letters imme­di­ately raised privacy concerns and promp­ted eight lawsuits to block or other­wise restrict the request. By the time the Commis­sion instruc­ted states to hold off submit­ting data pending a court ruling, 21 states and the District of Columbia had declined to provide any data. Missis­sippi Secret­ary of State Delbert Hose­mann respon­ded by saying the Commis­sion “can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Missis­sippi is a great State to launch from.” Follow­ing a court’s denial to halt the request, Kobach issued a new letter on July 26 again asking states to submit voter data — ​but, emblem­atic of the Commis­sion’s general lack of trans­par­ency, Kobach’s fellow panel members were left out of this decision-making process. Maine Secret­ary of State Matthew Dunlap, who serves on the Commis­sion, said they never discussed renew­ing the request. You can read more about the request here.
  • July 13, 2017 – Commis­sion releases personal inform­a­tion of voters concerned about privacy: The Commis­sion published a batch of comments it received from indi­vidu­als via email, many of which described privacy concerns surround­ing the Commis­sion’s request for voter data. The Commis­sion did not redact any of the addresses and phone numbers of indi­vidu­als who submit­ted comments. The next time the Commis­sion published comments in August, it redac­ted indi­vidu­als’ personal inform­a­tion.  
  • July 15, 2017 – Email reveals Kobach’s inten­tion to change voter regis­tra­tion laws:An email made public as part of an ACLU lawsuit revealed that Kobach had been work­ing on amend­ments to the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act since at least Novem­ber 2016. The Novem­ber 9 email from Kobach to Gene Hamilton, a member of Pres­id­ent Trump’s trans­ition team, stated, “we will also be putting together inform­a­tion on legis­la­tion drafts for submis­sion to Congress early in the admin­is­tra­tion. I have some already star­ted regard­ing amend­ments to the NVRA to make clear that proof of citizen­ship require­ments are permit­ted (based on my ongo­ing litig­a­tion with the ACLU over this)…” This revel­a­tion followed Kobach’s state­ments in May that he would not pre-judge the Commis­sion’s find­ings.
  • August 30, 2017 – Federal judge orders Commis­sion to increase trans­par­ency: In an open govern­ment lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the Commis­sion to describe how it plans to identify docu­ments for public disclos­ure prior to its Septem­ber 12 meet­ing. The order followed the Commis­sion’s fail­ure to publicly release meet­ing mater­i­als in advance of its first in-person gath­er­ing on July 19. During the hear­ing, an attor­ney repres­ent­ing the Commis­sion apolo­gized for its prior lack of trans­par­ency and said the panel had gotten off to a “chaotic start.” Judge Kollar-Kotelly told the Commis­sion’s lawyers that they “didn’t completely live up to the govern­ment’s repres­ent­a­tions” about publish­ing Commis­sion docu­ments, and ordered new disclos­ure require­ments going forward.  

  • Septem­ber 6, 2017 – Lawsuit reveals commis­sion­ers are using personal email accounts for offi­cial busi­ness: court filing in the Lawyers’ Commit­tee’s case revealed that commis­sion­ers had “been using personal email accounts rather than federal govern­ment systems to conduct Commis­sion work.” ProP­ub­lica later confirmed that commis­sion­ers continue to use private email accounts through the Septem­ber 12 meet­ing, find­ing that Commis­sion staff had provided minimal instruc­tions to its members about records reten­tion. Kobach has defen­ded his use of a private email account, stat­ing the he is serving on the Commis­sion as a private citizen rather than as Kansas’ secret­ary of state. 

  • Septem­ber 7, 2017 – Kobach claims NH elec­tion was “likely changed through voter fraud”: In a Breit­bart article, Kobach asser­ted there must have been voter fraud in New Hamp­shire because people registered to vote with out-of-state driver’s licenses, and some still did not have a New Hamp­shire license or car regis­tra­tion. The claim was widely debunked by the Bren­nan Center and others. During the Septem­ber 12 Commis­sion meet­ing in New Hamp­shire, Bill Gard­ner — a  member of the Commis­sion and the host state’s chief elec­tion offi­cial — stated that Kobach’s article had caused a “prob­lem,” and asser­ted that his state’s elec­tion was “real and valid.” Commis­sioner Matthew Dunlap added, “Making this equa­tion that some­how people not updat­ing their driver’s license is an indic­ator of voter fraud would be almost as absurd as saying, ‘If you have cash in your wallet, you’ve robbed a bank.’"
  • Septem­ber 12, 2017 – Email reveals von Spakovsky advoc­ated against includ­ing Demo­crats and “main­stream” Repub­lic­ans on the Commis­sion: An email obtained through a Campaign Legal Center FOIA request revealed that Commis­sioner Hans von Spakovsky had advoc­ated against includ­ing Demo­crats and “main­stream Repub­lican offi­cials” on the Commis­sion. The email was sent by a Herit­age Found­a­tion employee to Attor­ney General Jeff Sessions’ aide Peggi Hanra­han on Febru­ary 22, 2017, and then passed along to Sessions. Von Spakovsky initially denied any know­ledge of the email, but the Herit­age Found­a­tion later confirmed that he was its author. Von Spakovsky subsequently stated he had sent the email to private indi­vidu­als and that it was forwar­ded to Sessions without his know­ledge. 
  • Octo­ber 26, 2017 – Govern­ment watch­dog agency says it will invest­ig­ate “Elec­tion Integ­rity” Commis­sion:  The Govern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Office announced that it will invest­ig­ate the Commis­sion after being asked to do so by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J). The Senat­ors argued in their request, sent Oct. 18, that the Commis­sion “has ignored numer­ous requests” from lawmakers look­ing for inform­a­tion on the group’s work. They said that the lack of trans­par­ency goes against the Federal Advis­ory Commit­tee Act, which is designed to guide the oper­a­tions of such groups and keep the public and Congress informed about their activ­it­ies.
  • Novem­ber 9, 2017 – Commis­sion sued by one of its own members: Commis­sioner and Maine Secret­ary of State Matthew Dunlap sued the group after his multiple requests for inform­a­tion about the Commis­sion’s work had gone unanswered. In the lawsuit, Dunlap accused the Commis­sion of viol­at­ing the Federal Advis­ory Commit­tee Act, adding that the group’s secrecy means he has been “blocked from receiv­ing Commis­sion docu­ments neces­sary to carry out his respons­ib­il­ity” as a Commis­sioner. Dunlap’s lawsuit came on the heels of previ­ous efforts to receive inform­a­tion about the group’s work. On Octo­ber 17, he wrote to the Commis­sion’s exec­ut­ive director to say he’s being kept in the dark: “Here I am on this high-level govern­ment commit­tee and I don’t know when the next meet­ings are or how many meet­ings there will be,” he told The Guard­ian. On Decem­ber 22, District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Commis­sion must provide Dunlap with better access to Commis­sion docu­ments moving forward.