WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers from state and federal levels on Tuesday asked that President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity be disbanded, while accusing the Republican Party of engaging in systematic voter suppression tactics.
Following his claim that millions committed voter fraud in the 2016 election and allowed Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote, President Trump issued an executive order in May establishing a commission to study state-by-state registration and voting process information. The commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has requested voter information from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including political affiliations and partial Social Security numbers. The commission met for the first time today.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) claimed during the Democratic forum at the Rayburn House Office Building that voter suppression is a central tactic in Republican Party election strategy.
“The Republican Party as a whole, with a few honorable exceptions, has decided that this is one of the ways they’re going to make their way in the world,” Nadler said. “The nonexistent voter fraud is a ridiculous excuse, but people are buying it.”
According to Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kobach requested that states upload voter information to an unsecured website maintained by the White House. She then claimed that the commission had essentially asked officials to hand over the information to “foreign actors seeking to destroy American democracy.”
“We’ve already seen issues of this administration keeping information that should be ‘confidential’ confidential,” she said, adding that 99 percent of the “deep-red” state of Kentucky is opposed to the commission’s plans.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said that the election commission should be disbanded, and the focus should be on Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.
Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) asked the panel of witnesses for real-life examples of how voting rights have been hindered in their respective states. He pointed to estimates that 16 percent of Latinos don’t possess requisite photo identification for voting, due to the invalidation of Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before 2010. Those individuals are now required to get new Puerto Rican birth certificates and then use the certificates to apply for state-issued IDs.
“Most Americans think, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s just an ID,’ but everybody I think on the panel knows exactly what it means,” Cardenas said.
According to Lundergan Grimes, there are 99 bills pending in 38 states that seek to add additional measures for voter registration and limit voting hours and locations.
Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said that the measures impact poor people “who live in the shadows,” and who might not drive cars, fly on planes or hold valid IDs.
“Our democracy functions when each and every American can have their voice heard, and photo IDs stand as a threat to poor people on the margins in our country,” she said.
The election commission received criticism from African-American lawmakers in June, when the Justice Department, in collaboration with the commission, stepped into the debate with a request for states to garnish information on list maintenance procedures. The requested information included names, addresses, birth dates, political affiliations, voting history, Social Security numbers and military status. The Congressional Black Caucus objected in letters to the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors.
Janai Nelson, associate director counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said Tuesday that such data can be manipulated to purge lawful voters from voter rolls. She said that there is no need for a “sham commission” to uphold election integrity, while pointing to the National Voter Registration Act as existing protection.
“If you put too many barriers in front of folks, just like the line at the grocery store, if it’s too long, you choose a different lane, or you walk out of the grocery store,” Lundergan Grimes said. “If you put too many barriers in front of folks, they won’t go to the grocery to store to buy groceries. They won’t ever check out.”