We know that President Trump’s ‘Election Integrity Commission’ asked states to provide the White House with an unprecedented amount of personally identifiable information from the states’ voter rolls and respond to a series of open-ended questions purportedly designed to inform the Commission’s work. These steps raise an important question: what does the Commission plan to do with all this information?
The short answer: nothing good. The work of the Commission could result in a wave of serious, new barriers preventing Americans from exercising their fundamental right to vote. Commission Vice Chair Kris Kobach claims the group will advocate for specific policies based on a fact-finding expedition, but there is ample evidence to suggest the Commission’s legislative agenda is predetermined, even pre-drafted, and that the panel intends to use the presidential bully pulpit to call for officials to adopt restrictive measures that will suppress the vote.
The Brennan Center has identified several key pieces of federal and state legislation that can be expected as outgrowths of the work of the Commission:
Legislation Mandating Aggressive Purges to Remove Voters from Registration Lists
Kobach’s request for state files indicates one source of the Commission’s findings will come from comparing the states voter rolls to various state and federal databases, as well as other official documents. In fact, the Vice President’s spokesperson has admitted as much. Experts agree that such list matching efforts will significantly inflate the amount of improper voting. The Commission will likely use these flawed findings of bloated voter rolls to facilitate more comprehensive removals of voters from registration lists. These removal policies could take various forms: the Commission may recommend federal legislation requiring states to purge voters based on crosscheck results, or an amendment to the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) – the law that sets national standards for voter registration – weakening protections against unwarranted removals of voters. The group could also pressure more states to adopt, through legislative or administrative procedures, their own intensive purge processes.
Large-scale purges of registration lists, without the appropriate protections, can result in numerous eligible voters being kicked off of rolls and disenfranchised. One example of this is Kobach’s own Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck (IVRC), a database meant to identify people who may be registered in multiple states, which wrongfully removed thousands of eligible voters from lists.
Amendments to the NVRA to Compel Documentary Proof of Citizenship for Voter Registration
The Commission will likely propose amending the NVRA (which has played a pivotal role in suits blocking proof-of-citizenship mandates) to require or permit states to demand voters provide documentary proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote. Despite existing safeguards against noncitizen voting, Kobach and other Commission members, such as Hans von Spakovsky, have been outspoken advocates of such legislation. And recently-released emailsshow that Kobach has already drafted amendments to the NVRA “to make clear that proof of citizenship requirements are permitted.”
Although multiple courts have blocked voter registration laws requiring proof of citizenship, Kobach’s previous attempts to implement these restrictions have barred tens of thousandsfrom registering to vote. The impact of a federal requirement would be even greater – research shows that as many as 7 percent of Americans do not have necessary documents readily available and those without access to such documents are disproportionately minority citizens.
National and State Voter ID Laws
The commissioners’ respective records suggest the group will call for both federal and state voter ID laws. Commission-member Connie Lawson was the co-sponsor of the nation’s first strict voter ID law and William Gardner, another appointee, has spoken out in favor of New Hampshire’s photo ID rule. Commissioners Kobach and von Spakovsky have also been leading national proponents of voter ID laws, claiming these measures are crucial to combatting voter fraud.
These laws are touted as anti-fraud measures, but research has shown that voter fraud is exceedingly rare and politicians on both sides of the aisle have denounced claims of extensive fraud. Numerous studies have revealed the laws promoted by the Commission members are most effective at making it difficult for eligible citizens to cast their ballots. Moreover, variouscourts have struck down voter ID provisions for intentionally discriminating against minorities.
Eliminating the U.S. Election Assistance Commission
The Commission is expected to set its sights on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and recommend defunding or abolishing the independent, bipartisan federal agency, which is responsible for guiding compliance with federal election law, maintaining national voter registration forms, and implementing new election-related technologies. At least four members of the Commission have previously voiced support for defunding the EAC. In this critical moment, when we need to bolster our election infrastructure to defend against attempts by foreign actors to interfere in our elections, we should strengthen the EAC, not undermine it.