The "Voter Fraud" Commission's Controversies
The Commission was been mired in controversy since its inception. Here are some of the most prominent examples:
- 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: A 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.