EDITORIAL: Focus on real voting issues
America faces clear and chilling challenges when it comes to national 2018 elections. Namely, preventing outside agents, Russia chief among them, from meddling or otherwise sowing doubt into the process.
But despite this very real threat, the Trump administration is instead focusing on a non-existent “issue”: voter fraud.
President Donald Trump formed the Presidential Advisory Commission on Elections Integrity not to counter legitimate electoral threats but to fortify his fantasy that he won the popular vote in 2016 — or would have, had not millions of illegal votes been cast. (They weren’t. He didn’t.)
So, never mind mounting evidence that Russian interests launched a major cyber assault on the nation’s electoral infrastructure in 2016, the administration has bigger, albeit delusional, fish to fry.
In the heavy-handed, hollow-headed fashion characteristic of many Trump Administration initiatives (Exhibit A: the original travel ban), the commission is seeking data — some of it private — from all 50 states’ voter rolls. That would include full names, party registration and the last four digits of Social Security numbers for all registered voters.
State leaders, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf among them, have rightly told the commission to go jump in a lake — or, in at least one case, a larger body of water.
“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” said Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican.
Wolf was no less firm in his response: “The right to vote is absolute and I have no confidence you seek to bolster it,” he wrote the commission’s vice chairman, Kris Kobach.
The governor’s suspicion is well placed.
Kobach is a leading figure in the so-called voter integrity movement. As Kansas secretary of state, he led an unsuccessful battle to require verification of citizenship on voter registration forms, and he has pushed a national state registry to ensure voters are not registered in more than one state.
Critics say such measures would be more likely to prevent legitimate voters from casting ballots, than to block illegal voting, which is rare to the point of virtual non-existence. (A report by the Brennan Center for Justice found just 30 possible cases of non-citizen voting in 2016 nationwide — substantially less than Trump’s baseless claims of 3 million to 5 million.)
Thus, the president’s self-aggrandizing electoral priorities play right into the hands of conservative interests, who have for years been using urgent but unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud as cover for efforts to suppress voter turnout, particularly among minority populations.
Kobach is now in a unique position to gather unprecedented reams of voter information — or, he would be were not state leaders refusing to comply. In a rare display of bipartisanship, more than 40 states have announced they will not comply — or in some cases they will only partially comply — providing publicly available information.
Trump responded predictably over the weekend, with a truculent tweet: “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?”
Certainly not their concerns that the entire effort is a charade.
“The president created his election commission based on the false notion that 'voter fraud' is a widespread issue — it is not,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. “Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”
If the administration is serious about securing the integrity of the elections process, it will get to work quickly and earnestly in securing the nation’s electoral infrastructure from outside interference.
Focusing instead on a non-issue to reinforce a presidential pipe dream — all the while diluting, rather than protecting, voting rights — is as unproductive as it is unnecessary. Wolf and like-minded — and right-minded — state leaders are correct in neither condoning nor contributing to such a farce.