Trump elections commission stacked with representatives from states with few minorities

Update 3 July 10pm Pacific: Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Luis Borunda has resigned.

The Trump commission on election “integrity” made headlines last week when it sent letters to all 50 states asking for private voter data. Missed in that flurry: most commission members are not election officials and collectively they do not reflect the country, either geographically or demographically. And some members have zero elections background.

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After winning the Electoral College vote in November, president-elect Donald Trump tweeted that “millions of people” had “voted illegally,” denying him the popular vote win. Shortly after his inauguration, he told us, via Twitter, that he would launch an investigation into voter fraud.

In February, March and April, the president and White House advisors repeated and elaborated upon this claim. Finally, in May the president established an advisory committee on election integrity via executive order.

The executive order provides the mission for the commission:

The Commission shall, consistent with applicable law, study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections.

At the end of June, the commission asked states for their voter registration rolls, along with non-public personally identifiable data, but nada on state laws, regulations and processes or specifics related to federal elections. Most elections are local or state contests and measures.

Members of the commission

  1. Chair, vice president Mike Pence, former governor of IN (R)
  2. Vice-chair, Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach (R)
  3. Election Assistance Commissioner Christy McCormick (R)
  4. Arkansas lobbyist and former state lawmaker David Dunn (D)
  5. Indiana secretary of state Connie Lawson (R)
  6. Maine secretary of state Matt Dunlap (D)
  7. Maryland deputy secretary of state Luis Borunda (R)
  8. New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner (D)
  9. West Virginia Wood County clerk Mark Rhodes (D)
  10. Former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell (R)
  11. Heritage Foundation Hans A. von Spakovsky (R)
  12. TBD
  13. TBD
  14. TBD
  15. TBD
  16. TBD

There are no state elections directors on the commission. The state elections directors (pdf) for the four states with active officials on the commission follow:

  1. Indiana: Brad King, Co-Director Indiana Election Division
  2. Maine: Julie L. Flynn, Deputy Secretary of State
  3. Maryland: Linda Lamone, Administrator of Elections, State Board of Elections
  4. New Hampshire: Anthony Stevens, Assistant Secretary of State

Although the US voting system is highly decentralized, there is only one county official on the commission.

The commission is not demographically diverse.

Of the eight states represented on the commission:*

  • Seven have white populations that exceed the national average
  • Six have black populations that are less than the national average
  • All eight have hispanic populations that are less than the national average
  • Five have bachelor degree populations less than the national average
  • Six have median household incomes less than the national average
  • Six have per capita incomes that are less than the national average
  • Four have poverty rates that are less than the national average
  • Only one state ranks in the top 10 in population; four are in the bottom 16.

* McCormick and von Spakovsky work in DC and are not included here; neither is an elections official for the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia. Pence’s home state, Indiana, is represented by the secretary of state. See the table at the bottom of this article for details. See this chart for population and demographic details on the eight states.

The commission is not geographically diverse.

Pence-Kobach Election Integrity Commission

There is no representative from the American west. Yet a quarter of the U.S. population lives in states demarcated by the Rockies.[1]

Three of the four states represented by Democratic elections officials (AR, ME, NH, WV) rank in the bottom quarter of U.S. states by population; all rank in the bottom third. One of those representatives is from a county, not a state. The county ranks 651st in population.

Some members have questionable bona fides.

Some members of the commission have no elections experience or a record of voter suppression:

  • Blackwell (R): while Ohio SOS in 2004, Blackwell tried to reject voter registration forms, prevent absentee voters from voting if they had not received a ballot in the mail, provided inaccurate information about voting status to former felons, and put a speedbump in front of those attempting to vote with provisional ballots.
  • Borunda (R): in Maryland, elections are managed through the state board of elections, not the secretary of state’s office.
  • Dunn (D): a lobbyist who once served in the Arkansas state legislature, Dunn told the HuffPo that “he did not have any expertise in elections or voting issues.”
  • Pence (R): former governor of Indiana; the governor’s office does not oversee elections affairs; the secretary of state does that. And the Indiana secretary of state is on the commission.
  • Rhodes (D): represents a small county in a small state.
  • von Spokavsky (R): king of the “voter fraud brain trust.” While at the Bush DOJ, he “pushed for Georgia to be granted pre-clearance for a new voter ID law that was later declared unconstitutional, and shut down an investigation into a policy in Minnesota that prohibited Native Americans living on reservations from using tribal ID cards as voter identification.”

Kobach is a polarizing figure for a variety of reasons:

The commission mission has no mandate to review active voter registrations.

From the executive order (emphasis added)

Sec. 3. Mission. The Commission shall, consistent with applicable law, study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections. The Commission shall be solely advisory and shall submit a report to the President that identifies the following:
(a) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;
(b) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and
(c ) those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.

If the goal of the request was to compare voter registrations for duplicates across states: (1) that’s not illegal and (2) members of the Trump family were doxxed for this after Trump asserted that it was illegal.

Moreover, there are two interstate voter registration matching programs, ERIC and Crosscheck. Fifteen states use ERIC, 30 states use Crosscheck, and six states use both programs.

Chasing a non-existent problem

The commission has been criticized for chasing a problem that researchers have shown does not exist: voter fraud.

A study of allegations of voter fraud from 2000 to 2014 found only 31 “credible allegations” of voter impersonation out of 1 billion ballots cast.

Researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice interviewed elections administrators, from 42 jurisdictions, who conducted the 2016 election.

“Improper noncitizen votes accounted for 0.0001% of the 2016 votes [23.5 million] in those jurisdictions.”

In California, New Hampshire, and Virginia — states called out specifically by Trump — “no official … identified an incident of noncitizen voting in 2016.”

Closing thoughts

The flaws are rampant, providing ample ammunition for those who criticize the commission as a witch hunt or an attempt to rollback voter rights. It’s unnecessary (studying a non-existent problem that is touted as a GOP talking point). It’s headed by a man whose efforts are being overturned by the courts, at great expense to taxpayers around the country. It’s stacked against minority voters.

Perhaps the reason the commission is so lopsided is that ethical elections officials are loath to provide a veneer of legitimacy.

The history of voting in the United States is not punctuated by voter fraud — people voting who shouldn’t.

The history of voting in the United States is punctuated by voter suppression: preventing people from voting. From our origins — when only landed men were able to vote — to Jim Crow; from refusal (or impediments) to reinstate voting rights of felons who have served their time to modern scaremongering that disenfranchises Hispanic voters.

Many military and overseas citizens are disenfranchised because of logistical problems in transmitting ballots. Although the HAVA requires states to issue provisional ballots, states are not uniform in how they process them (or when they require one).

These are the voting-related recommendations I’d like to see, which are unlikely to come out of this commission:

  • All states move to vote by mail, reducing costs and improving both security (all those computers in the field that have to be stored and transported) and accuracy (assured paper trail) while improving access and eliminating the need for “early voting” polling stations (although there is a need for accessible voting centers).
  • Uniform voter registration deadlines, including day-of-voter registration
  • Uniform political party declarations for federal offices
  • Top-two primary for all partisan races
  • Ranked voting
  • Tightened requirements on releasing voter registration information
  • All states adopt whatever is the most flexible system for military/overseas voters currently in place

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[1] Western states: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY

Header image: Flickr CC

This series

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Posted at 8:40 pm Pacific, 2 July 2017


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