President Trump will sign an executive order Thursday establishing a commission to investigate unfounded voter fraud allegations. Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) will lead the commission, ABC News reports.
The Washington Post reported that a “White House official told reporters that the commission will review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the confidence in the integrity of federal elections, including improper registrations, improper voting, fraudulent registrations, fraudulent voting and voting suppression.” The commission, according to the Post, will not only examine the 2016 general election, but “systemic issues over the years.”
“This commission is a sham and distraction,” Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center, said in a statement. “It tries to pivot from the fact that this week Trump fired the chief law enforcement officer in charge of probing whether his advisors colluded with Russia to influence our elections. He fired the person investigating a real threat to election integrity, and set up a probe of an imaginary threat.”
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Trump fired James Comey this week from his position leading the FBI, which was investigating allegations of coordination between the Russian government and the 2016 Trump campaign. Sources say that, shortly before being fired, Comey asked for additional funds from the Justice Department for a probe into the matter.
Voting rights advocates pointed to the White House’s empowerment of people who have sought to erect barriers to the ballot box.
“When Attorney General Jeff Sessions led a similar effort as a former prosecutor in Alabama, it had a chilling effect on the black vote,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “Now, President Trump is seeking the counsel of Kansas Secretary of State Kobach, who has a proven record of advocating for discriminatory and burdensome policies that prevent members of minority communities from exercising their right to vote.”
Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters, said in a statement that the creation of the voter-fraud commission 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 added that it comes “at a time when the nation and Congress are consumed with this administration’s own Russia scandal.”
“This administration is laying the groundwork to usher in widespread discrimination in our systems of voting and manipulate our democracy,” Carson said.
Trump was set to sign an executive order to investigate voter fraud in late January, just after taking office, but it was ultimately delayed.
The president told Fox News‘ Bill O’Reilly in February that his claims of voter fraud were rooted in issues with voter registrations and noncitizen voting. “Look, Bill, we can be babies, but you take a look at the registration, you have illegals, you have dead people, you have this,” he said. “It’s really a bad situation. It’s really bad.” Trump has claimed without evidence that he would have won the 2016 popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) acknowledged on CNN in February that there is “no evidence that [election fraud] occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election.” He added, “I don’t think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that.”
Trump suggested in January that the results of his voter fraud commission could lead the administration to “strengthen up voting procedures.” He has voiced his support for restrictions such as voter identification requirements, which research has shown to impede access to the ballot box, especially for those with low incomes, people with disabilities, people of color, and the elderly.
Denise Lieberman, senior attorney and co-director of the Power and Democracy program at the Advancement Project, told Rewire in February that the baseless allegations of voter fraud pushed by Trump and his allies were “intended to create a narrative that inspires fear in people, that attempts to delegitimize our elections and voting process, and I believe will be a harbinger of possible legislative actions in the days to come.”
“This issue has been studied and put to bed. We know that there is no in-person voter fraud,” she said. “This is a distraction that is intended to create a narrative to support efforts on the federal level and in states that could make voting harder, particularly for voters of color.”
A district judge on Tuesday upheld a ruling ordering Kobach, who will help lead Trump’s commission, to produce documents on proposed changes to federal voting laws he reviewed with the president, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuit was brought against his office by the American Civil Liberties Union.