Trump’s voter commission meets amid concerns about mission

A commission created by President Donald Trump to investigate his allegations of voter fraud is coming to New Hampshire a week after its vice chairman angered state leaders by claiming out-of-state voters in November helped elect a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

The vice chairman, Republican Kris Kobach, who also is Kansas’ secretary of state, said last week that newly released data showed more than 6,500 people registered to vote last year using out-of-state driver’s licenses but only 15 percent had acquired New Hampshire licenses. That was proof, he said, that fraud likely led to then-Gov. Maggie Hassan’s victory over Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte in the Senate race.

But state law allows someone — like a college student or military personnel on active duty — to be domiciled in New Hampshire for voting purposes and be a resident of another state for driver’s licensing purposes.

Kobach’s comments prompted all four members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation to demand the state’s representative on the commission, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, step down. Gardner, a Democrat, said he could not condone Kobach’s claims but would remain on the commission because he wants to understand why Americans are losing trust in the election process.

On Monday, the New Hampshire chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP said they planned to call for the commission’s dismantling. Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a fellow Democrat, are co-sponsors of a bill that would end the commission, whose Tuesday meeting will its second and its first outside Washington, D.C.

“The commission’s long game is to set the table to restrict voting rights in New Hampshire and across the country,” said Shaheen’s communications director, Ryan Nickel.

Nickel said it’s clear the commission “has a pre-ordained outcome and should be disbanded.”

The commission, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, has spurred controversy from the moment it was established in May. Critics say Trump, a Republican, is using the commission to support his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud that cost him the popular vote during the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, received 2.8 million more votes than he did.

While there have been isolated cases of voter fraud in the U.S., there is no evidence of it being a widespread problem, as Trump suggests.

Critics have expressed concern the commission will be used to promote voter suppression efforts. Kobach and other Republicans have advocated for measures that would make it more difficult for people to register to vote, stay registered and cast ballots. A recent Associated Press analysis found that Kansas, where Kobach is the top elections official, tossed out more ballots in the 2016 election than Florida, which has about seven times as many residents.

Commission member Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, said professors from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be discussing potential cybersecurity problems in elections. But he also said plenty of attention would be paid to voter fraud. He said his group’s database had uncovered 1,100 cases and another study on voter registration in 21 states to be presented Tuesday found 8,500 people voted in more than one state in November.

“All of those are indications of problems with the way we do voter registration and the way we vote, and I would think that folks would want to figure out, well, what can we do, if anything, to remedy those kinds of problems so we have fair elections,” Spakovsky said.

An analysis of the Heritage Foundation database by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found its conclusion of voter fraud was “grossly exaggerated” and only 105 of its cases happened in the past five years.

Republican lawmakers, citing concerns over voter fraud, have largely been behind a push in several states to enact voting restrictions, such as laws requiring voters to produce certain types of photo ID before casting a ballot. Various federal courts have rolled back some of the more far-reaching restrictions, although legal battles continue.

The commission provoked controversy in June when it sent letters to officials in all 50 states seeking a long list of information about voters, including partial Social Security numbers, dates of birth, party affiliations, addresses and voting histories. After sparking widespread privacy concerns, Kobach later sent a revised letter explaining the information would not be released publicly.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have refused to comply, while three remain undecided, according to an AP survey. Several of those states, including Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming, are led by Republicans.

The commission also has faced lawsuits over its activities, including claims it violated federal law by collecting private voter data and by holding meetings without providing public notice or opening them to the public.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, is one of the election officials who refused to provide the data. She said the request was just one reason she had little faith in a “voter-suppression commission.”

“You don’t need to know an individual’s voter registration, party affiliation, their voting history and, importantly, the last four digits of their Social Security number to be able to make good, strong recommendations as to how you improve the voting process,” she said.

By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press

Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy contributed to this report.