President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that sets up a commission to review his controversial allegations of widespread voter fraud, along with reports of voter suppression.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity will be led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has aggressively pursued allegations of voter fraud in his state.
About a dozen other election officials representing both parties will fill out the commission, which will deliver a report to the president next year, White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
During a private Jan. 23 meeting with top congressional leaders, the president claimed that between 3 million and 5 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted in November’s election.
He later reiterated the claim. “They all voted for Hillary. They didn’t vote for me,” Trump said in an interview with ABC News that aired Jan. 25. “I don’t believe I got one.”
In defending his claim, for which the White House has yet to provide documentation, the president announced that he would issue an executive order related to voter fraud, and Pence told Republicans that the administration would “initiate a full evaluation of voting rolls.”
But months passed and the issue seemed to fade from memory. Now, the White House is getting around to taking action.
Sanders said that the commission will review policies and practices that enhance or undermine confidence in the integrity of federal elections, including improper registrations, improper voting, fraudulent registrations, fraudulent voting and voting suppression. The commission will not just focus on the 2016 general election but also systemic issues over the years.
According to the White House, others planning to serve on the commission include: Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R); New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D); Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D); Christy McCormick, commissioner of the election assistance commission; and former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell (R).
Even before it was formally announced, news of the commission’s launch met with a cascade of criticism from voting-rights and other organizations.
Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, called the commission “a sham and distraction,” alleging that the announcement was an attempt by Trump “to pivot” from his firing this week of FBI Director James B. Comey.
“He fired the person investigating a real threat to election integrity, and set up a probe of an imaginary threat,” Waldman said, referring to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.
League of Women Voters President Chris Carson, meanwhile, said, “the real purpose of this effort is to justify President Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 elections.”
Carson said the commission was being filled with “political ideologues with dangerous agendas.”
“Today’s announcement is just another distraction from the real issues and we expect that any findings or recommendations from this commission will only be used to make it harder for people to vote in the future,” Carson said.
The White House has pointed to Kobach’s investigation of voter fraud cases in Kansas as evidence that he supports the president’s claims. Kobach is the only secretary of state with the authority to prosecute voter fraud, and he has helped create some of the nation’s strictest voter ID requirements.
In a Fox News interview in February, Kobach said there were 115 cases in Kansas of noncitizens on the voter rolls or trying to get on the voter rolls, which he said could be the “tip of the iceberg.” More than 1.7 million people are registered to vote in Kansas. Last month, Kobach got his first conviction of a noncitizen who illegally voted in a Kansas election without being a U.S. citizen. It was his eighth voter fraud conviction since getting the power to pursue such cases in 2015.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Jenna Johnson, John Wagner