– Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice chair and likely driving force, gave an interesting hint about the kind of policies the panel might recommend. “The federal government has a database of all known non-citizens residing in or visiting the United States, “Kobach told Breitbart News. “Never before has that database been used to run [checks] against the databases of voter rolls in each state.” Kobach is referring to a Department of Homeland Security database which officials from several states have tried to use for verifying voting eligibility, but been denied access by the federal government. DHS itself has made clear the database isn’t a fool-proof way to check citizenship.
– Speaking to The New York Times, Kobach took a softer tone. The panel will “go where the facts take us,” he said, adding that people who say fraud barely exists “should be glad that this commission is being formed…because then the commission would confirm their predictions.”
– Another member of the commission, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, is already fighting off criticism of his decision to participate. “There is a reason I’m doing this,” Gardner told a New Hampshire radio interviewer. “It’s too bad that over half of the people in the country feel that there is vote fraud. Let’s find out why.” Gardner is currently supporting a controversial GOP-backed bill that would restrict same-day vote registration in New Hampshire. REMINDER: Gardner is officially one of two Democrats so far named to the commission. But New Hampshire’s secretary of state is elected not by voters but by the legislature, which has mostly been controlled by Republicans since 1976 when Gardner, now 68, first took office. So he’s not the choice of Democratic voters, and the “constituents” he needs to worry about are mostly Republicans.
– The other Democrat announced to the panel, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, sounds a bit wary. “My instinct is to see where this takes us, and if this turns out to be a Trojan Horse, I have the opportunity to speak up,” he told TPM.
– One Republican commissioner, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, called the panel “a defense of democracy.” Breitbart digs up a 2009 Yale Law and Policy Review paper co-authored by Blackwell which lamented the lack of federal laws “strengthening the integrity of the ballot box.”
– Charles Stewart III, a renowned election administration expert at MIT, made a crucial point about the commission. The order directs the panel to focus on policies that boost confidence in the integrity of the voting process. But, writes Stewart, “voter confidence is driven most powerfully by who wins and loses,” and “election laws such as voter identification don’t affect the confidence that the mass public has in the electoral process.” In other words, trying to use voting policies to boost voter confidence, if that’s actually the goal, is likely to fail.
– Justin Levitt, who ran the voting section the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division last year and has done important work showing how rare voter fraud is, was scathing about the commission’s mandate to focus on voter confidence. “The commission’s job is to manufacture security theater, to confront manipulable fears about problems that don’t yet exist,” Levitt wrote.
– Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic member of the Federal Election Commission, says it seems like the commission has already made up its mind. “Numerous nonpartisan studies of the 2016 election found vanishingly little voter fraud,” Weintraub wrote. “What could be the purpose of ignoring the ample already-existing research on the election? The president’s choices raise serious concerns that the conclusions of this commission are preordained and will be used to undermine the right of legitimate U.S. citizens to cast their votes.”
– Several conservative news outlets are scandalized that, as we reported Friday, a Rutgers political science professor is urging election experts not to participate in the commission, and plans to form a group that puts out alternative voting information.
– Ben Ginsberg, the Republican election lawyer who co-chaired a well-regarded bipartisan commission on voting formed in 2013, is still mum about this one. Ginsberg hasn’t responded to several of our requests for comment.