What has happened to President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity?
The president — convinced he actually won the popular vote in 2016 over Hillary Clinton — established the commission in May. Vice President Mike Pence is the chairman, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is widely considered the real leader of the group.
The commission has all but disappeared publicly, and there are growing indications it will set a new standard for uselessness.
The commission ran into immediate problems last summer when it asked for voter data from all 50 states. Several states denounced the request and refused to comply in whole or in part.
Lawsuits followed. By mid-July, the Washington Post reported, at least seven plaintiffs had sued the commission, including the ACLU, the NAACP, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The cases are winding their way through the courts.
The commission has met just twice formally — in July and again in September. It has issued no other meeting notices, and its staff did not respond Wednesday to an email asking if the commission would convene again this year. Its website lists no statements since August.
The lack of public discussion does not mean the commission isn’t working privately, of course. Kobach may be teaming up with like-minded colleagues such as Hans von Spakovsky, who is so outside the mainstream that he said Democrats and moderate Republicans should be excluded from the commission.
Democrats were named anyway and now they say they’re out of the loop. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Alabama judge Alan King recently wrote letters to the commission’s staff complaining about the secrecy.
“I don’t know when the next meetings are or how many meetings there will be,” the judge told the Associated Press. “I am in the dark on what will happen from this point on.”
Several Senate Democrats are fed up. They wrote the Government Accountability Office in October, asking for a review of the commission’s activities. They want to know how much the commission costs, whether it’s following federal rules and how it’s doing its work.
GAO has agreed to the review.
The slap-dash nature of the commission’s public efforts will sound familiar to Kansans who know Kobach. In fact, there are new questions about the privacy and security of his program designed to check voter registrations across states.
Some may take solace in the commission’s quixotic search for non-existent evidence. Perhaps the commission is fading into well-deserved oblivion.
We’re more worried. The commission’s lack of transparency and visible accomplishment could be a smoke-screen designed to protect it from criticism and embarrassment until next year, when it can drop dubious recommendations and unsubstantiated claims just weeks before the mid-term elections.
There are still real voter problems a commission might investigate. Why, for example, did someone in Georgia erase computer records shortly after this year’s special election? How might the nation pay for new voting machines? How can voters’ rights be protected?
The Kobach commission appeared uninterested in those questions. The first advice remains the best: The commission should disband. Failing that, Americans can easily conclude the group’s work is useless and should be discarded.