Is Presidential Commission on Election Integrity a GOP Trojan Horse to Expand Voter Suppression?

Posted July 19, 2017

MP3 Interview with Tomas Lopez, counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program, conducted by Scott Harris


Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory in the November presidential election surprised most political pollsters and the majority of voters who had supported Hillary Clinton. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots, which caused a frustrated Trump to repeatedly make the false claim that 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants had voted for the Democratic candidate.

On the basis of this false accusation, designed to provide a rationale for his historic popular vote loss, President Trump initiated the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate alleged fraudulent voting. The Commission is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach serves as vice chairman. Kobach is well known as the architect of voter suppression laws adopted by states across the country, as well as Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant “papers please” law SB 1070.

On behalf of the Commission, Kobach requested voter information from all 50 state governments in late June. However, the request for voters’ names, addresses, birthdates, party affiliation and the last four digits of Social Security numbers, was refused outright by 19 states, with others unwilling to comply with key parts of the request. Democratic legislators have demanded Kobach be fired, and four lawsuits have been filed against the Commission for violation of various federal laws. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Tomas Lopez, counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program, who discusses his concern that the Commission may be a “Trojan horse,” established to usher in more restrictive voter suppression laws for partisan political advantage. [Rush transcript]

TOMAS LOPEZ: Last fall, both prior to the election and after the election, President Trump made a number of statements about widespread voter fraud being a concern, and then, you know, an actual thing that he alleges happened in last year's election. He claimed that three million to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, but I can tell that there is no evidence to back that up. Our concern is that this commission that has been set up with Kris Kobach as (vice) chair – and then with also a number of the other leading individuals with a long history of supporting voting restrictions – we were worried that what they're going to be doing is trying to justify these claims of widespread voter fraud and also forwarding an agenda, we fear, to call for voting restrictions around the country. More aggressive voter purges and generally takimg a big step backward in voting rights.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell our listeners exactly what is Kris Kobach and this presidential commission asking the state governments for? What type of information are they after?

TOMAS LOPEZ: Sure. A couple of weeks ago,(Kansas Secretary of State) Kobach sent a letter to all 50 states and asked them to provide voter data on name, date of birth, last four digits of their Social Security number, felony conviction history, whether or not they voted in elections going back to 2006. A whole ream of information, a lot of which many states don't even allow to be released. This information we now understand, especially after statements have been made, seems as if the commission intends to try to compare this giant list that they would get of 200 million American voters of every state that produces data to federal government databases to try to come up with some kind of alleged list of potential noncitizens that are on the voter rolls or people registered to vote in multiple states and use that information to attempt to justify voter restrictions at the federal level.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tomas, what has been the response of state governments across the country to this request for voter information from Kris Kobach and this commission?

TOMAS LOPEZ: What we have seen is that states have largely rebuffed this request and that they have done so across party lines. There are over 20 states that in one way or another have declined either to provide any data at all, or have imposed really tough conditions on the commission before that data is being released. There are some states that are providing data that the state is claiming is not shielded by law and what we're seeing is that across the political spectrum, election officials are not really happy with this request. You have some Democrats, like you might expect, that are questioning the motives of the commission. Questioning why they are asking for such personal data. But you also have the Secretary of State of Mississippi come out and tell the commission they could go jump in the Gulf of Mexico. They've exposed an issue that I think touches a nerve for voters, for officials and for people across party lines.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What are the checks and balances on this commission and their work? If indeed, their mission is to further voter suppression across the country, what force in Congress or in civil society in general can challenge that?

TOMAS LOPEZ: One of the things that is important to understand is that this commission does not have subpoena power. This commission can't force the states to do anything, can't force others to do anything. It doesn't have legislative power. But it does have a really big platform by being created by a presidential executive order, by having the imprimatur and legitimacy that comes from being a presidential commission. This is not something that should be taken lightly. Our concerns and I think that the concerns that voters and election officials are expressing about what this body is doing – they don't come from nowhere. Kris Kobach is getting a lot of attention, but he's not the only person on this commission who gives us concerns.

Hans von Spakovsky, another member, in many ways is the intellectual godfather of the effort that we've seen in recent years past restrictive voting laws around the country. J. Christian Adams is a former Department of Justice attorney who in recent years has brought a series of lawsuits attempting to force states and localities to more aggressively purge voters so that they can – in such as way that you end up taking eligible voters off the rolls. And J. Kenneth Blackwell, the former secretary of state of Ohio, is somebody who had a long track record when he was running elections in that state, of both troubled administrations and of putting together rules that made it more difficult for people to cast a ballot.

For more information, visit Brennan Center For Justice at

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