Americans should thank Kris Kobach for his timely demonstration that President Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission is the scam its critics have been claiming all along. Mr. Kobach, who serves as co-chair of the commission as well as Kansas secretary of state and who is an aspiring candidate for governor, wrote a column in Breitbart News that he had “proof” of so much voter fraud in New Hampshire that it turned the outcome of the U.S. Senate race. The claim was so swiftly and easily dispatched at a fact-finding hearing in Manchester on Tuesday that it dramatically illustrated the foundation of the entire enterprise — a search to justify voter suppression laws on any and all grounds possible no matter the lack of evidence of actual voter fraud.
What did Mr. Kobach claim? He wrote that because thousands of people who registered to vote on Election Day used out-of-state driver’s licenses (which he concedes is legal under New Hampshire law if they indicate New Hampshire is their “domicile”) with most subsequently failing to acquire a New Hampshire driver’s license or register a vehicle in the state, it was enough to swing the election for Democrat Maggie Hassan over Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. After all, he reasoned, New Hampshire is surrounded by states that lean Democratic, so these alleged fraudulent voters likely backed Ms. Hassan.
The biggest problem with that argument is that it ignored a significant voting bloc — college students. Under New Hampshire law, it’s perfectly acceptable for someone attending school in New Hampshire to vote in elections because they live most of the year there. Nor is it required that they transfer their driver’s license to New Hampshire nor register their car there. There was even a state supreme court case on that very issue. Interestingly, had Mr. Kobach bothered to check, there was an analysis done by New Hampshire Public Radio earlier this year that found — voila — polling places with the highest number of people registering to vote with out-of-state driver’s licenses were located in college towns.
Even Republican leaders in New Hampshire aren’t buying into the idea that there were thousands of fraudulent votes cast last November. They concede that not only are college students a possibility, but there are likely some people who failed to change their driver’s licenses or re-register their cars in a timely manner (a problem the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration often experiences as well, incidentally). Others may simply have moved from the state since last November. But Mr. Kobach offered no apologies for jumping to conclusions. On Tuesday, he acknowledged only that the issue was “complicated” and said more research needed to be done.
Over and over again, Mr. Kobach and others who claim rampant voter fraud in U.S. elections ignore facts, make sweeping generalizations and come to conclusions that simply aren’t justified. The commission has operated in a secretive manner and sought information about voters from states that is clearly protected. The entire enterprise was built on a falsehood — Mr. Trump’s claim that millions of noncitizens voted in the election, a whopper so enormous and so often debunked that its continued circulation, particularly among Trump supporters, raises serious doubts about whether mere fact-checking and truth-telling can ever penetrate such a closely-held, hyper-partisan belief.
That’s not to suggest there aren’t valid threats to election integrity. It’s just that most of it stems from matters of human error. There are dead people on registration rolls. There are issues with the adequacy and lack of standardization of technology. But here’s the biggest problem of all: There are tens of millions of Americans who are qualified to vote but do not register. The country needs to draw those individuals into the process — through automatically registering citizens to vote, perhaps, or simply conducting elections on weekends.
As others have noted, Mr. Kobach’s commission has more members than there are proven cases of voter fraud in his home state. The Democrats on the panel should walk away now rather than continue to provide a bipartisan patina to this dishonest enterprise. Its leader isn’t looking for facts, he’s looking for cover. To paraphrase the Senate minority leader, the commission is a punishment in search of a crime that was never actually committed. And behind it all is a despicable desire to keep Americans — particularly minorities and the poor — from casting ballots in future elections.
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