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Trump voter fraud panel member fights back against critics

Trump voter fraud panel member fights back against critics
© Camille Fine

A prominent member of President Trump’s election fraud commission is battling back against “absurd” accusations that the panel is trying to suppress the vote.    

In a sit-down interview with The Hill, Hans von Spakovsky dismissed criticism from liberals who say the committee’s main objective is not to stop voter fraud, but to make it harder for some Americans — particularly minorities — to cast a ballot.

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“I actually find it amusing when critics say ‘Oh, well, the purpose of this commission is voter suppression.’ Well, that’s such B.S. because, look, this is an advisory commission. It has no executive authority of any kind,” he said.

“The only thing we can do is write a report that makes recommendations and then it’s up to the states or Congress to do something about it. The idea this is somehow going to keep you from voting is absurd,” he said.

A former member of the Federal Election Commission, von Spakovsky is one of the 12 members of Trump’s voter fraud commission, which is chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The board has been plagued by controversy and legal challenges from the start, in part due to Trump’s widely disputed claim that millions of people voted illegally in last year’s election.

The panel has requested voter roll information from all 50 states, including names, voting histories and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Officials in 14 states and the District of Columbia have refused to comply.

For his part, von Spakovsky is accustomed to being in the line of fire. Back when he was an attorney in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, he says people called him a Nazi behind his back, which he contends was due to his conservative views on voting rights and his support for voter ID laws. His family name is actually Russian.

“When I talk about the integrity of the election process, that doesn’t just mean preventing people from stealing votes. It also mean ensuring everyone who’s eligible gets to vote,” he said.

The panel has met twice and is planning to meet again, von Spakovsky said.

The election committee is now down to 11 members, four of whom are Democrats, following the sudden death last month of former Arkansas state Rep. David Dunn (D).

The possibility of bipartisanship on the panel is something von Spakovsky, who runs the conservative Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative, questioned from the start.  

In an email uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Campaign Legal Center, von Spakovsky called a phone call he had about commission membership “disturbing.”

“There isn’t a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission and what it is doing, making claims this it is engaged in voter suppression,” he wrote. “That decision alone shows how little the [White House] understands about this issue.” 

Reports falsely claimed that he sent the email to Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Grassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law New immigration policy leaves asylum seekers in the lurch MORE, von Spakovsky said.

He said he’s willing to work with Democrats who take voter fraud seriously.

“I sent that to a third party, a private party, having a private conversation. If you read the email, you will see that what I was concerned about was third-party individuals who would not get on the commission with the intent of it actually doing real work and research of the issue, but whose only mission would be sabotaging the commission,” he said.

“So far at least, it seems like we’ve worked well together.”

It was, after all, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D), he notes, who provided the data behind Kobach’s claim of potential voter fraud in the Granite State.

State statistics showed about 6,500 people used an out-of-state drivers license to register to vote on Election Day, but 10 months later, only about a 1,000 had actually obtained state driver’s license. 

Election officials have since explained that New Hampshire law allows those “domiciled” in the state to vote, which includes college students who spend most of their nights in the state, but have licenses from their home states.

But von Spakovsky doesn’t buy that explanation. 

“What we have found deserves an intensive investigation,” he said.  “It’s very possible some that those 5,500 people have moved into the state but aren’t driving or haven’t abided by the law …. or what if there were Massachusetts residents who drove the 30 miles across the border in order to take advantage of the same-day registration law because they wanted to help ensure the outcome of the race?” 

He said New Hampshire has an obligation to investigate, given the closeness of the election. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump touts report Warner attempted to talk to dossier author Poll: Nearly half of Iowans wouldn’t vote for Trump in 2020 Rubio on Warner contact with Russian lobbyist: It’s ‘had zero impact on our work’ MORE won the state over Trump by fewer than 3,000 votes. Former Republican Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteAudit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years No, the US did not spend million on a gas station in Afghanistan MORE, meanwhile, lost her reelection bid by just over 1,000 votes.

He doubts the 5,500 people who voted with out-of-state IDs were all students.

“If all the people who registered were between the ages of 18 and let’s say 25, maybe they all were students, but if a significant percentage of them were over the age of 25 or in their 30s, 40s or 50s, the chances they were all students is pretty slim," von Spakovsky said.

The commission claims to have already found 1,100 instances of voter fraud. And von Spakovksy said the committee heard from a witness at its last meeting who claimed to have studied 21 states and found more than 8,000 people had voted twice.

Several voting experts have challenged that testimony from Ken Block, president of Simpatico Software System, NPR reported.

The Brennan Center for Justice has also studied Trump’s claim about widespread voter fraud and produced a report that “conclusively demonstrated most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless.”  

Von Spakovsky argues the Brennan Center is an advocacy group, not a think tank, and denies that the panel is alleging massive voter fraud.

“We don’t have massive voter fraud, but we do have voter fraud,” he said. “And the question is, to what extent does it occur and what steps can we take to stop it, and where could it make the difference in a close election?” 

As a first-generation American, von Spakovsky credits his parents for his commitment to protecting democratic rights. His father was an officer in the White Army who fought the Bolsheviks in the Russia civil war, while his mother survived World War II. 

“There’s a great saying by Ronald Reagan,” he said, paraphrasing, “that democracy is not something that’s passed on in the blood. You can lose a democracy in a generation. That’s what my father saw, and it’s really important I do everything I can to ensure we stay a great republic. It’s why I stay in the game.”