Trump’s voter fraud boondoggle — more questions, few answers
© Getty

Late last month, vice-chair of President Trump’s Voter Fraud Panel, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, sent letters to all 50 states, renewing efforts to obtain personal voter data from each state.

This letter was sent solely by Sec. Kobach, and was not cleared beforehand with any of the other commissioners, including Democrats like Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Maine. More importantly, though his first effort was met with widespread, bipartisan rebuke by his fellow secretaries of state, Sec. Kobach is back once again requesting that states trust the White House with an unprecedented federal database of every voter in the country. While many election officials of both parties are continuing to refuse to share any voter data, a few states are now sharing public data if required by law.

Many questions remain after this second attempt, the main ones being why do they want this voter data and what do they intend to do with it? These questions are key, because even if they obtained the public data available from every state (basically name, address, birth year, political party, and voting history), there is literally no way they can use this to determine anything of value.

Researchers have written extensively on this problem, finding a similar program run by Sec. Kobach that uses slightly more data than the commission will have available (full dates of birth, not just birth year) are almost six times as likely to match a name incorrectly as correctly, and about 200 times more likely to be wrong about double voting as they are correct. And further research confirms that millions of American voters will be erroneously identified as fraudulent voters if the panel proceeds as they seem to intend to.

This is junk science, and it’s incumbent upon the commission to explain how they will overcome this likely-insurmountable hurdle. The commission does not even attempt to provide the states with any information about their intentions or qualifications, and the states are wise to continue to demand that the commission be transparent about its methodology before releasing any voter data.

Other questions loom large as well, all of which have been asked multiple times by the states, with no answers:

  1. What are the names and qualifications of those who will have access to all this personal data?
  2. How will the data be protected during storage and transmission?
  3. What is the legal basis for Sec. Kobach’s claim that “the Commission will not publicly release any personally identifiable information regarding any individual voter or any group of voters from the voter registration records you submit.” Does this mean they simply won’t affirmatively release all this public data? What happens if someone requests it under applicable federal law? Sec. Dunlap, a member of Kobach’s commission, has refused to provide any data until these questions in particular are answered.
  4. If the only information the commission seeks is “publicly available,” why hasn’t the commission sought to obtain this data as any other member of the public would? Why have they shifted this burden on election officials in the states?
  5. If finding voters who might have multiple voter records (usually because voters have moved between states since they last voted) is the commission’s goal, why have they completely ignored the one tool that has proven to be effective at helping states keep up with mobile voters — the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. Run by the states, it uses more data, securely and privately, to help a bipartisan group states — states as blue as Connecticut and as red as Alabama — keep their voter lists accurate.

In the recent letter, Sec. Kobach repeats the plea made several times by Vice President Pence during the first meeting of his panel, that there are no “preconceived conclusions or judgments” and that the commission will go where the “facts lead.”

And yet, during the first meeting of the commission and in multiple media appearances before and after that meeting, Sec. Kobach and several other members of the commission made clear that they believe widespread voter fraud to be a major threat (even though every piece of research and investigations by election officials of both parties confirms voter fraud to be extremely rare), and have made light of citizens’ concerns.

President Trump left no doubt of where he expects the “facts” to go when he referred to his “voter fraud panel” and kicked off the first meeting of the panel by accusing Republican and Democratic election officials of “hiding something.” And once again, to justify its debunked claims of widespread fraud, the commission mis-cited the study that I wrote while leading Pew’s elections program.

If this commission seeks to be taken seriously as a fact-finding entity it will have to earn the states’ trust and demonstrate it’s willing to work to restore its credibility. Until then, election officials of both parties will rightly resist cooperating with this inquisition.

David Becker is a former senior litigator with the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Section, and currently serves as the executive director and founder of The Center for Election Innovation & Research, a non-profit that works to improve the security, integrity, and efficiency of elections.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.