Our view: Fledgling federal inquiry into alleged voter fraud is already proving to be an exercise in deception and dishonesty
Nothing telegraphs a federal commission's basic incompetence quite like having 44 states refuse to cooperate with its inquiry. But that's the running total, according to a recent CNN survey, of states that have declined to provide requested voter data to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the Trump administration's sham inquiry into voter fraud. As cynically partisan as the commission appears to be in makeup and mission, the decision by the states was far more straightforward: In most cases, state laws expressly forbid election agencies from releasing much of the data (including the last four digits of voter Social Security numbers) for privacy reasons.
That was certainly true in Maryland where the state elections administrator formally notified the commission of its rejection Monday in a two-paragraph letter that simply noted that much of the information requested was protected by state and federal law. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh offered a more damning statement calling the request for personal data "repugnant" and designed "only to intimidate voters and to indulge President Trump's fantasy that he won the popular vote."
The Republican voter fraud charge is a familiar political gambit, but it's especially telling that the commission requested protected voter information without first finding out what legal barriers existed in the first place — a classic ready, fire, aim act of stupidity. Or was it? The commission's request was made by vice-chairman Kris Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas and an Oxford-educated lawyer who allegedly knows a thing or two about running elections in that state. Yet Kansas is among the states declining to provide the information.
That suggests another possibility — that the commission is more interested in generating heat than light. As if on cue, President Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted out his response to the uproar: "Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?" Even by Trump standards, that's a pretty imbecilic claim, given that a majority of states are governed by members of the president's own political party. But it's perfectly in keeping with the kind of wild-eyed voter fraud claims that stir the far-right base but have little basis in reality.
This was, after all, the same president who insisted he would have won the popular vote if millions of people hadn't voted illegally last November, a Grade A "pants-on-fire" level lie.
Clearly, the claim is most effective when it is not held up to scrutiny, at least not the even-handed variety. More legitimate inquiries into U.S. voting systems have certainly found problems — potential security vulnerabilities, for example, or registration lists that are not updated in a timely manner — but the kind of fraud that Mr. Trump and his supporters claim, voter impersonation, is a rarity.
Still, that hasn't stopped Republicans from using the false claim to champion laws to restrict voter access, requiring photo ID or other "show me your papers" restrictions designed to discourage minorities and the poor from participating in elections. Mr. Kobach has been a leading voice in that movement, and it's likely no coincidence that he's taken on this high-profile mission even as he's running to be the next governor of Kansas.
Closer to home, Marylanders got another whiff of this deliberate incompetence with the rather bizarre appointment of — followed by sudden resignation by — Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Luis E. Borunda to the election integrity panel. That a member of the secretary of state's office might serve on an election panel makes perfect sense if the state in question was Kansas, but in Maryland, elections are run by an independent board, not the secretary of state. The involvement of Mr. Borunda, a former Baltimore County school board member with minimal election experience, simply proved too embarrassing for all involved, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who had no role in that appointment, a spokesman insisted.
All this would seem comical if one of the nation's most fundamental rights was not at stake. It should frighten Americans that this "integrity" commission is more interested in justifying the next wave of voter suppression measures that in addressing legitimate ballot security issues (or in raising the nation's already abysmal voter participation levels) in this age of hacking. That the president and other proponents are characterizing the assertion of legal privacy protections by 44 states as an effort to hide voting fraud is worse than repugnant, it's a betrayal of this country's founding principles.
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